Dec 1, 2000 | Marmot, Winter 2000

Disabled Skiing Program a Huge Success on Mt.Washington

Jackie Crabseth first skied with Herb Bradley and the Vancouver Island Skiing for the Disabled Society 20 years ago. The Campbell River ski racer, now 31, had been skiing since she was seven years old, and competes in downhill, slalom and Super G races.

“I love skiing with him, he’s fun,” says Crabseth, who has Down Syndrome. Crabseth is one of thousands of athletes with disabilities who have skied with Bradley, whose reputation in the Comox Valley is legendary. Bradley founded the VISDS more than 30 years ago, while director of the ski school at Forbidden Plateau.

Bradley, now in his early ‘80s, single-handedly took on the task of making skiing a recreational reality for the disabled on Vancouver Island.

“We were teaching on the Plateau long before Mt.Washington opened up,” Bradley explains. He went to Banff and took some instructor training with Gerry Johnson, on teaching people with disabilities how to ski. “I’ve worked in recreation all my life. I’d come across people with one arm or one leg, or mentally disabled while I was teaching gymnastics, diving; I just accepted them as they are.” Bradley found teaching the disabled was “interesting and exciting”, and soon his enthusiasm spread.

In July 1992 the VISDS gained official society status. “We got to the stage where we had so many people, we had to form a society. It was too difficult to operate on an ad hoc basis,” Bradley said
Today the VISDS has about 300 members, and 80 volunteer instructors. “We had 487 students last year. We get quite a few students who aren’t members,” Bradley explained. “We’ll be about the same for this year.”

Every kind of disability possible is represented, from mental health issues to Down Syndrome, paraplegia to double amputees. Sitskiing — for quadraplegics, paraplegics, people with cerebral palsy
and multiple sclerosis ? is probably the most popular for the VISDS. The society has 10 sitskis and more on the way. The disabled ski program draws kids from all over Canada, but mostly
Vancouver Island.

Bradley stresses the volunteer aspect of the instructors’ program. “The whole organization is volunteer. We don’t have any paid help at all,” he says.

Instructors are dedicated to teaching kids and adults alike how to ski, all on their own time. One instructor spent 72 days last winter up Mt.Washington, teaching. “That’s dedication,” Bradley said. (Bradley and other instructors spent several weekends this fall training new instructors for the program. “We turned away 25 people this year because we couldn’t take all of those who volunteered,” he said.)  Bradley pauses when asked what he gets out of teaching people with disabilities how to ski. “I get a million dollars a year,” he says, laughing. Then he turns serious.

“Unless you actually go out with a person with a disability and see them walking, teach them how to ski and see what it does for them, you can’t really understand. All the instructors accept the challenge well and they work at it.”

Sometimes those challenges aren’t simple: one skier who had suffered brain damage was with them for many years. “He really took to skiing. He battled with it for four or five years, and we battled with him for four or five years. But finally, he can ski by himself.”

To see the success that the disabled skiing program has enjoyed over the years, one only has to listen to an athlete like Jackie Crabseth, and how excited she gets when talking about skiing. “I meet different people and I want to race more,” she says. “My favorite is slalom, it’s much faster.”  Crabseth has skied all over Canada, including Mont Tremblay in Ontario and Silverstar in Vernon. She won a gold medal at a B.C. Games event in Quesnel, for which she is most proud.

Gord Tuck is perhaps the most famous of VISDS alumni. Tuck lost his leg in a logging accident in 1991. A skier since he was seven, Tuck joined VISDS to learn to ski with modified equipment. His efforts paid off: in 1995 he won two silver medals in the Canada Winter Games and was named AirBC athlete of the year. At the 2000 World Championships in Switzerland, he was a downhill silver medallist. “We taught Gordie to ski when he was a little boy,” Bradley recalls fondly. “He’s a great skier. Now he’s on the national team and travels all over the world, skiing and racing.”

The Vancouver Island Skiing for the Disabled Society will have a high profile at Mt.Washington this winter, as they get set to host a number of events. The accent will be on ability from Jan. 7-12 when the VISDS presents a Ski Novice Orientation Workshop (SNOW) and Ski Improvement Program (SKIMP) at their annual Winter Ski Festival. The SNOW program is mainly for new skiers, while SKIMP is for experienced skiers who want to improve their skills.

The Winter Ski Festival offers four days of learning to ski, including use of ski lifts, equipment and any specialized equipment required. For more information, phone Don at (250) 339-0632 or Neill at (250)338-7129.

On Feb. 4, 2001, the society hosts the Coca Cola Classic Race. This is the society’s main fundraiser: last year they raised $11,000 to purchase equipment. The race is also an opportunity for people to see the athletes in action. Each three-person sponsor team will be provided with a person with a disability for each team. Teams get lift tickets, an event T-shirt, free lunch and chances at lots of prizes. Team entry is $250. Phone Dick at (250) 334-2278 for more information.

The society will host the B.C. Disabled Ski Championships Feb. 24-25, and the Island championships March 17-18, 2001. For more information about the Vancouver Island Skiing for the Disabled
Society, phone Herb Bradley at (250) 334-3868.

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