PURGATORY – Jennifer Rushall grew up being told she could not ski. She never would, doctors once told her, but for the past five years, she’s proved them wrong.
Rushall is from San Diego. She lives with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder, a rare, progressive hereditary disease that damages nerves in her arms and legs. She experiences muscle weakness and atrophy, but she is in Durango this week to ski bike with the help of the Adaptive Sports Association at the 22nd annual Dave Spencer Ski Classic.
About 175 people took to the slopes Saturday for the Durango-based organization’s largest community and fundraising event, said Taylor Irwin, event and development coordinator at ASA.
The organization works in the region to offer people with physical and cognitive disabilities an opportunity to get outside, be with like-minded people and develop community, Irwin said.
Bruce Stultz moved to Durango about nine years ago because of ASA, he said. He has lived all over the country but never in a place where there’s been an organization that has made it so easy for him to enjoy outdoors recreation.
ASA works with individuals to get people the right adaptive equipment for their specific needs, Irwin said. Volunteers and staff members have pushed Stultz to explore his limits, he said, but never over them.
“I’ve gotten my sense of self back,” he said. “It’s helped me re-establish my confidence.”
Sporting opportunities for young people with disabilities were rare when Stultz was growing up in the 1980s, he said. He wonders how his life would be different if he had something like ASA growing up. He said it gives “young people an opportunity to see what’s possible.”
“If I can ski, what else can I do?” he said.
Abigail Barstatis and Nicolina Lasher, both 11, came to the mountain to support their friend, who lives with both cognitive and physical disabilities. While it is fun to snowboard, Lasher said her friend is “fast, and it’s nice just to watch him smile.”
The Dave Spencer Ski Classic is a homecoming of sorts, bringing together people with disabilities from all over the region, Irwin said. Local businesses sponsored 26 teams this year.
It took Stultz three years to get a grant so that he could own his own skis. A sponsorship from Hampton Inn in Durango got Rushall to Southwest Colorado.
“This is a place I can be safe and be the speed demon I like to be,” she said. “It’s nice to have a community – the people are the real reason I come back, regardless of the conditions.”