By Dave Brennan
More than 40 years ago, a 12-year-old girl named Diana Golden lost her right leg to cancer — and forever changed the future of adaptive racing.
With the support of her family and friends and the New England Handicapped Skiing Association at Mount Sunapee, N.H., Golden earned a spot on her high school team in Massachusetts, raced on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team from 1979 to 1982 and, after graduating from Dartmouth College, raced again from 1985 to 1990 earning 10 World and 19 U.S. Disabled Women’s Championships.
In 1988, Golden was named U.S. Skier of the Year. That same year, the Calgary Olympic Winter Games officially recognized adaptive ski racing. At age 25, Golden stood atop the Olympic podium, flanked by her teammates, in an American sweep of the GS. She inspired a new way of thinking about athletes with disabilities, and a new momentum for Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA), established in 1967 by World War II veteran and U.S. 10th Mountain Division member Jim Winthers.
Today, a new collaboration between DSUSA and NASTAR is opening more opportunities than ever for athletes of all abilities.
Three years ago, NASTAR worked with DSUSA to add an “Adaptive” classification to its race programs at more than resorts across the U.S. Now, more DSUSA athletes than ever are creating a pipeline of racers for the international elite level, USSA NorAm and Paralympic events. (DSUSA reaches 60,000 athletes in 40-plus activities,)
“We’re excited to work with NASTAR to further the opportunities that are available to adaptive racers,” says Kyleen Davis, DSUSA Program Manager. “It’s important to have opportunities for racers that are easily accessible and with NASTAR courses available at 115 resorts nationwide, the racers in our network don’t have to look far for competition. Many of the chapters in our national network operate out of resorts with NASTAR courses, so it dovetails nicely with the programs they’re already offering.”
DSUSA’s mission, Davis explains, is to enable individuals with disabilities to not only pursue their dreams in sport but also to foster independence, confidence and fitness.
“One thing that happens when people become disabled is their friends and family start to drift away, because without a shared activity they no longer know what to do together,” adds Kirk Bauer, DSUSA Executive Director. “We teach them a shared activity that they can do with family and friends for the rest of their lives, and skiing is one of those.”
NASTAR’s structure works particularly well in resolving the significant issues of inclusiveness and access to participation, previously a major barrier to ski racing, explains NASTAR Director Bill Madsen. “We’re always looking for ways to expand NASTAR and to include more participants,” he says. “Working with DSUSA has allowed us to create new adaptive categories and set handicap discounts for each disabled discipline. When an adaptive participant races NASTAR, they are given a time and a handicap and their handicap is discounted based on their discipline. Paralympic athletes set the handicap discounts for adaptive athletes so regardless of their age, gender or discipline participants have a cohesiveness handicap system to win NASTAR medals based their ability.”
Look for more information on DSUSA athletes racing NASTAR, as well as details on a special DSUSA camp for youth racers ages 13 to 24 in Steamboat from March 22 to 26 (in conjunction with NASTAR Nationals, March 24 to 27) in future posts.