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Why Adaptive Skiing Matters

Volunteers help a skier go safely down the hill. The winter Olympic games are underway in Beijing, China.

Seeing an Olympic athlete embrace their parent after a competition is one of the most emotional moments of watching the Olympics.

The athlete has just accomplished something extraordinary and the parent has witnessed their child accomplish a goal. Parent and child worked together, made sacrifices, put in long hours to achieve a dream.

Similar emotional scenes of awe and accomplishment happened on a recent sunny Saturday thanks to a group of brave children, volunteers from Padraig’s Place, Mankato area adaptive ski, and Gillette Children’s staff. The 12th Annual Adaptive Ski Day was an opportunity for children who have disabilities to discover the thrill of downhill skiing.

Marcie Ward, MD, is a Gillette pediatric rehabilitation medicine physician and is one of the champions of adaptive ski day and keeping all children active. She says the Gillette Children’s adaptive ski days are some of her favorite days of the year. Ward says these adaptive sports events bring joy and can transform children and families.

Dr. Ward, take us through adaptive ski day. What happens?

The team at Gillette Children’s works closely with the Padraig’s Place team, Mankato area adaptive ski, and Gillette staff to make sure we have enough trained volunteers to ensure safety. Throughout the year Gillette providers compile a list of patients we think would be good candidates to participate in the adaptive ski day. During a typical event we can help 15 to 24 patients ski.

The families arrive and the child gets bundled up and the volunteers help them get into the ski gear. The parents are off to the sidelines and anxiously await their child coming down the hill with the volunteers.

I like seeing when the parents, at the bottom of the ski hill, lock eyes with their child part way down the ski hill.

The volunteers take the children down the hill and once they get to the bottom there’s a lot of cheering and the child is smiling from ear to ear. Many times, there are a lot of happy tears. It can be emotional because this is a time when families realize that their child can be an athlete. It’s so heartwarming to witness families seeing their child in a new light as an athlete.

Dr. Marcie Ward looks on as a skier prepares to go down the hill.

Marcie Ward, MD, (in a white jacket) encourages the skiers. 

What does it mean for you, as a doctor, to witness this transformation in the children and families?

The wonderful thing about our patient population at Gillette Children’s is the children are incredibly brave and courageous. I would say the Gillette Annual Downhill Ski Day and the Gillette Annual Water Ski Day are two of my favorite days every calendar year. As doctors we see these children in our clinic and now we get to see them doing something new and having a wonderful, fun experience.

It’s very common for me to have parents telling me, ‘I never thought my child would be able to do something like this!’ The day begins with a bit of doubt but ends with smiles.

For me, the ski days bring back so many memories of past ski days. I remember the children who have garnered so much bravery, courage, and pride. It’s just fabulous.

Why do events like adaptive downhill ski day and adaptive water ski day matter?

I think it’s incredibly important for all of us to maximize what it is that we’re able to do in life. So many of our children that come to Gillette have limitations in what they’re able to do. At Gillette we can be a resource for them and let them know about these opportunities to try something new.

For me, I embrace health. I love health. That is one of the reasons why I became a physician. I also love to embrace life outside of the hospital. I love being outdoors and I love being active. I want all children to experience the fun of participating in many different sports. Even if they can’t be the star on their hockey team, they can be the best sit skier at their school.


What does having an opportunity to participate in an adaptive sports event mean to a child?

You see the child absolutely beam with pride because they were able to get up and get the job done. The get to feel like a complete success.

It really is a golden opportunity for the child. They love it. They talk about it for year afterwards when they come to clinic. What they keep with them is the bravery and courage and the possibility to show up and do these sorts of things for the rest of their life.