Skiing down the slopes with the wind on your face and the glare of the sun reflecting off the snow is the ultimate winter sport, but only for healthy able-bodied children and adults, right? Wrong! Once again, Kids of Courage has proven its ability to “conquer illness through adventure” as 52 medically fragile Couragers braved the vistas of Mount Snow on Sunday, January 5. With the help of Ability Plus and tens of different adaptive skiing devices, the Couragers whooshed down the mountain, distinguishable from their fellow skiers only by their larger smiles and their amazing feelings of accomplishment.
The Fifth Annual Kids of Courage Weekend kicked off on Thursday, January 2. After loading up at HASC, three charter buses headed to Springfield, Massachusetts, with a stop at New Roc City for arcades, bowling, Lazer Tag, and pizza. On Friday, memories were created at New England’s second-most-visited tourist attraction: Yankee Candle Village. Then, more than 200 campers, volunteers, and guests experienced an inspiring Shabbos with delicious food and wonderful accommodations. A rocking melaveh malkah concert, courtesy of Soul Farm, rounded out the night. Sunday morning dawned bright and early as bleary-eyed travelers boarded the buses for Mount Snow, Vermont.
Here is one camper’s Ski Madness experience:
“Flash back one year to January 15, 2013. I am in the hospital getting prepped for surgery. As I sit there, reminiscing about the great experience I just had on KOC’s Ski Madness Adventure, I remember the fun, the laughter, and the ordinary feeling of sitting around with friends, not worrying about the hardships that come with having a disability. Those memories helped me through the difficult surgery and recovery.
“Now, almost a year later, I am standing on top of Mount Snow, strapped to a snowboard, ready to conquer the mountain. I hear cheers from my fellow Couragers, my friends. ‘You can do it!’ They are watching as I and the other campers come rushing down the mountain, feeling the wind in our hair as if there is no care in the world.
“While on Mount Snow, there are no thoughts of doctors, medications, g-tubes, or pain. From the time we are strapped into our skis or onto our snowboard, the thoughts in our heads are ‘I can do anything.’ No longer am I the girl with no arms and crooked legs. Now, in this moment, I am the normal young adult about to board down a mountain. There are those of us that cannot walk, or see, yet we are all carefree and fearless for that bit of time.
“Each camper is assigned a team of ski instructors who spend the day with them on runs down the mountain. Disabilities do not slow us down, as Ability Plus, along with Kids of Courage, is equipped and ready to tackle what most would consider an impossibility. Ventilators, oxygen tanks, lack of limbs, and fear are conquered by determination. Whether it is a camper who needs to be duct-taped into a bi-ski or a blind camper with a group of guides, he or she is given the care and attention needed to experience what was once thought to be a dream. The opportunity to ski and snowboard is a chance of freedom for us Couragers. It is a chance to brag to our friends and family back home that we too can go skiing.
“To many of us, Kids of Courage is not an organization, but a family that is there for us when times are tough. Kids of Courage is there—not only on trips, but throughout the year. KOC volunteers are calling us and putting smiles on our faces after a hard day. The four instructors who were with me at Mount Snow kept asking me how each staff member knew each kid by name and how they had the energy to cheer as each one passed them. I answered that they are my family.
“Their constant cheering does not stop once we get off the buses. Whether it is taking a Courager out for dinner, a phone call, or a text at 2 a.m. because they know we are awake, they are there. They are individuals who volunteer their time so we can have a dream vacation. Everyone has their favorite times; for one camper it is the skiing, for others it is spending time over Shabbos with their Kids of Courage family, hanging out in the hotel and talking to the others who are in the same predicament, laughing and smiling, bonding over the hardships they face by living with a disability. On a Kids of Courage trip, it is not age, gender, or religion that unites us; instead, it is love and the determination to get through life with the right attitude.
“The trip was over two days ago and I have not yet unpacked my suitcase. The one thing that will never be unpacked is the memory of a perfect weekend: a weekend filled with fresh snow, beautiful blue skies, laughter, and amazing memories. The four days of excitement and awesome madness will stay with me until the next Kids of Courage event.”
Kids of Courage appreciates the generosity of its corporate sponsors, vendors, and friends, including J Drugs, Apria Healthcare, Five Towns Jewish Times, Gourmet Glatt, HASC, Peter Pan Buses, Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel, First Class Caterers, Royal Care Inc., Ability Plus, Spyder, and Peak Resorts.
Many thanks to everyone who helped create millions of memories. v
Kids of Courage is a volunteer-based 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose mission is to improve the lives of medically fragile children and young adults and their families through year-round programming and annual adventures. For more information or to make a donation, please visit kidsoc.org.