‘Happy campers’ at Adventure Amputee Camp

‘Happy campers’ at Adventure Amputee Camp

Rachel Ridder (left) and Emma Sarich (right) guide Neena, a participant in the Adventure Amputee Camp, down a slope at Wintergreen Resort. This is the first year the nonprofit, which is aimed at children 8 to 17 years old, has held a winter camp.

Nothing could stop the 9-year-old girl’s determination to try a new sport — neither the frigid air made colder by the billows of white snow spraying from snow machines at Wintergreen Resort, nor a disease that has caused her muscles and bones to be underdeveloped.

With the assistance of two Wintergreen Adaptive Sports instructors and snow sliders, she traveled smoothly down a slope Monday, the first full day of sports activities as part of Adventure Amputee Camp — the winter edition.

Neena, who instructors only identified by her first name, was decked out all in purple — her favorite color — except for bright red ski boots. It was her first time skiing but, despite the chilly conditions, she could say without hesitation she was having fun and hopes to do it again.

The Adventure Amputee Camp, a nonprofit organization, has been holding a summer sports camp in Bryson City, N.C., for 19 years. This is the first time they have held a winter camp.

“We’ve talked about an additional camp for a long time, so we’re very happy to be able to make this happen this year,” said Missy Wolff-Burke, the president of AAC, who also has been teaching adaptive skiing at Wintergreen for about five years.

Wolff-Burke said her goal always has been to grow the camp, which is designed for children 8 to 17 years old with amputations or limb differences. She became acquainted with WAS through her job as a professor at the Shenandoah University Division of Physical Therapy.

This year, five kids were hosted for a four-day camp. Originally the cap was eight, but camp director Kelly McGaughey, a physical therapist with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said fewer campers worked well since winter sports require more undivided attention from counselors and instructors.

For three of the campers, the overnight camp was the first time they had experienced outdoor sports.

The kids, many of whom came from out of state, arrived Sunday. Along with McGaughey, Wolff-Burke and three other counselors from AAC, they stayed in a five-bedroom house on the mountain that the organization rented for the occasion.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the youth tried out several different sports, such as adaptive skiing, adaptive snowboarding, ice-skating and tubing. They also took advantage of an indoor pool at the resort.

With adaptive equipment to help with strength, balance and speed control, as well as some assistance from instructors, the campers were able to engage in activities they or their parents and guardians might at one time have thought unapproachable, which is very empowering, Wolff-Burke said.

“The value [of the camp] is that they and their families recognize that they may have imposed limits that don’t need to be there,” she said. “And from the kids’ perspective, they can see other children with a similar disability doing something that, before this, they might have thought not possible. … That’s the real beauty of the camp.”

For instance, Neena used snow sliders that made it possible for her to ski, which, in turn, made her “literally a happy camper,” Wolff-Burke said.

Campers also got to interact with other children and adults who have undergone similar experiences and physical limitations. Two of the counselors had amputations but now do winter sports independently.

“Both of them provide great role-modeling for our campers,” Wolff-Burke said.

On Wednesday night, the camp scheduled a closing celebration of sorts, at which the kids were joined by family members for a ski day and dinner the night before they left. On Thursday, the campers were scheduled to return home.

Other than a $25 registration fee and the cost of transportation for campers to and from Wintergreen, the camp was free to attend. Wolff-Burke said they hope to make it an annual event that would join many programs hosted by WAS, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA. The group offers adaptive instruction in alpine skiing, snowboarding, kayaking and canoeing with a mission to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities through outdoor sports and recreation.

The organization, which officially was started in 1995, offers winter and summer programs for people of all ages with cognitive and physical disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, spinal bifida, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, amputations and others. WAS also runs a Wounded Warrior Program that overlaps with the summer and winter lessons.

The winter season brings students the opportunity to learn snow sports, and runs from December to March. The summer sports season, which consists of paddling sports such as canoeing and kayaking, runs from May through September.

Executive Director Dave Shreve said students taking lessons generally have numbered about 35 during the summer season and 150 during the winter season, and they come from all over Virginia and beyond. Scholarships and reduced prices are available to many students.

— Contact Katherine Lacaze at 434/385-5582 or klacaze@newsadvance.com

By KATHERINE LACAZE The Nelson County Times