“Ski Spectacular was the first recreational sports trip I took after my injury.” Army Sergeant Matt Melancon
Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA) is hosting the 30th annual The Hartford Ski Spectacular December 4-10 at Beaver Run Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort in Breckenridge, Colorado. The week-long event, sponsored by The Hartford, is among the nation’s largest winter sports festivals for individuals with physical disabilities. More than 800 participants, ranging in ability from first-time skiers to members of the U.S. Paralympic Team, come together to kick off the winter season with instruction and competitions that teach beginners and train athletes for national and international competitions.
U.S. Paralympic medalists Keith Gabel and Mike Shea and other U.S. Paralympic hopefuls will be participating, all hoping to compete at next year’s Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Also participating will be more than 175 wounded service members, family and military staff from the U.S. and Great Britain. Wounded or injured service members are coming from Walter Reed National Medical Center, San Antonio Army Medical Center, Naval Medical Center San Diego, Semper Fi Fund and from across the country. Since 2003, Disabled Sports USA has served more than 12,000 severely wounded or injured service members and family members, offering nationwide programs in more than 50 different adaptive sports.
“Ski Spectacular was the first recreational sports trip I took after my injury” said retired Army Sergeant Matt Melancon. “Sports have cultivated an attitude of possibility in me, and this really started at Ski Spectacular.” While serving in Afghanistan in 2011, Melancon’s vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device causing severe injuries to both of his legs and his lungs. After attempting limb salvage, Melancon had his first leg amputated below the knee in 2013 and his second leg amputated a year later. Melancon has received numerous military awards for his service, including the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and the Purple Heart. Today, Melancon is an avid snowboarder and retail manager at Black Rifle Coffee Company.
Among the youth participants this year will be 10-year-old Lilly Biagini who chose to amputate both of her legs above the knee at age 7 due to a rare muscular condition. This year, Lilly and her family lost everything – including her wheelchair and prosthetics – in a wildfire in Santa Rosa, California that destroyed their home.
“Learn to” programs in alpine and Nordic skiing, biathlon, sled hockey, curling, skating and snowboarding will be offered. In addition to these lessons, The Hartford Ski Spectacular also strengthens and expands adaptive snow sports programs in communities throughout the country by training staff and volunteers at DSUSA chapters as part of the National Adaptive Academy. The ski instructor academy, endorsed by Professional Ski Instructors of America – American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI), offers training for instructors in the latest and safest adaptive ski and snowboard techniques for individuals with disabilities.
“In this our 50th year in operation, we are thrilled to partner with The Hartford and have the support of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Semper Fi Fund and other generous supporters to kick off the winter season with this premier adaptive sports event for youth and adults with disabilities,” said Kirk Bauer, JD, executive director of DSUSA and disabled Vietnam veteran. “For 30 years, The Hartford Ski Spectacular has been the go to event for individuals with disabilities to get world-class instruction in skiing and snowboarding and exemplifies how our athletes are achieving their goals and gaining independence through the power of sports.”
The Hartford, a founding partner of U.S. Paralympics, has been the title sponsor of The Hartford Ski Spectacular since 1994.
The Hartford is a leading provider of group disability insurance and has a long-held belief that sports are an important part of physical rehabilitation following a disabling illness or injury. As a founding partner, The Hartford has supported U.S. Paralympic athletes for more than 20 years through its sponsorship of U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), and its dedication to recruiting and training elite athletes with physical and visual disabilities.
“The Hartford is honored to sponsor this impactful program,” said Mike Concannon, executive vice president of The Hartford’s Group Benefits business. “Our partnerships with DSUSA help demonstrate that the will to prevail lives within each of us. With the right resources and a focus on ability, we believe that people can overcome almost anything, including disability.”
The Hartford Ski Spectacular’s Presenting Sponsor is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Grants for Adaptive Sports Programs for Disabled Veterans and Disabled Members of the Armed Forces Program provides funding to organizations to increase, expand and enhance the quantity and quality of adaptive sport activities available for disabled veterans and members of the armed forces to participate in physical activity within their home communities, as well as more advanced U.S. Paralympic and adaptive sport programs at the regional and national levels. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides essential equipment and technical support to The Hartford Ski Spectacular. For more information on VA Adaptive Sports programs visit http://www.va.gov/adaptivesports.
The Hartford Ski Spectacular’s Platinum Sponsor is Semper Fi Fund. The Semper Fi Fund provides urgently needed resources and lifetime support for combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. Case managers from the Semper Fi Fund work one-on-one with service members and veterans in order to understand and support their individual needs right now and throughout their lifetime. They keep overhead low so their impact on the lives of service members and veterans is greater.
The event is also sponsored by Oshkosh Defense, Wash Depot, Veritas Capital, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Tee it up for the Troops, DAV Charitable Service Trust, Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center, Breckenridge Ski Resort, and Breck Sports.
Partnering organizations include Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI), Vail Adaptive Sports, USA Curling, USA Figure Skating and Colorado Adaptive Sports Foundation. Participating Disabled Sports USA chapters include Host Chapter: Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center; Education Chapter: National Sports Center for the Disabled; Contributing Chapters: Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program, New England Disabled Sports, Oregon Adaptive Sports, Outdoors for All Foundation, Teton Adaptive Sports and Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports.
Follow the action at The Hartford Ski Spectacular on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Look for @DisabledSportUS and #skispec on Twitter and Disabled Sports USA on Facebook, as well as @TheHartford on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. To get involved and pledge support, please visit https://www.disabledsportsusa.org/get-involved/donate/.
About Disabled Sports USA
Founded in 1967, Disabled Sports USA is a national charitable organization that provides opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in sports. What began as a program to serve Vietnam veterans has since grown into one of the nation’s largest multi-sport, multi-disability organizations, annually serving more than 60,000 wounded warriors, youth, and adults with disabilities. A member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Disabled Sports USA offers programs in more than 50 summer and winter sports through its nationwide network of more than 120 community-based chapters. For more information, visit http://www.disabledsportsusa.org.
Disabled Sports USA
Shuan Butcher, sbutcher(at)dsusa(dot)org