Winter Challenge: Volunteers Share Their Love Of Snow Sports

By: Melissa Stagnaro

Winter Challenge: Volunteers share their love of snow sports

CORTLAND – By the end of his third day at Greek Peak, Matthew Wise had graduated from the bunny slope and was begging for a chance to try one of the ski resort’s black diamond runs. That’s impressive progress for any novice skier, but consider this – Wise is an amputee.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, (but) never had the opportunity,” said Wise, who lost his left leg above the knee when he was 11 as a result of cancer.

Last week, the Minneapolis man realized his dream of learning to ski at Winter Challenge Week, held the last week of January each year at Greek Peak’s Adaptive Snowsports Center. The non-profit, volunteer-run program is a week-long event which helps blind, paraplegic and amputee adults and wounded veterans learn to ski or snowboard.

The program, now in its seventh year, is the brainchild of Robyn King of Norwich and “One Legged” John Solowiej. More than 40 individuals have been served since its inception, at no charge to participants.

“We could not do this without our sponsors,” said King, explaining that individuals and business donors enable the program to continue. Their financial support covers the roughly $1,000 cost for each participant, and helps purchase and maintain the necessary adaptive equipment.

According to Solowiej, many of those sponsors are from Chenango County. This year, those generous donors included the Flanagan Foundation, the Kochersbergers, the Almeter family, Electron Coil, Pet Street Station, the Rowe family, Service Pharmacy, the Norwich American Legion and the Norwich Rotary.

“Everybody here is extremely grateful (for their generosity),” he said.

The Kryger family, Greek Peak Mountain Resort, Triple-Cities Ski Club, the Wounded Warrior Project, Hangar Prosthetics, BAE Systems, Chestnut Rehabilitation Services, ISD and Med Spar are also sponsors. A complete list appears on the Winter Challenge website, www.winterchallenge.org.

This year’s program had nine participants, including Wise and two others from Minnesota. The three were sponsored by the Wiggle Your Toes Foundation, a Minneapolis-area non-profit which serves the limb-loss community.

Aaron Holm, founder of Wiggle Your Toes, joined Wise on the slopes.

“I never thought I would ski again,” said Holm, who lost both legs above the knee four years ago after he was struck by a car. At the time of the accident, the husband and father of three was helping a co-worker change a flat tire on the shoulder of a highway.

He and the family and friends who rallied around him after the accident quickly realized there was no one, comprehensive resource for those who have lost limbs. They combed the Internet for information and formed a project team to help Holm and his family with his recovery.

It was such a success that others began to contact them for advice, and Wiggle Your Toes was born.

When asked how the foundation got its name, Holm explained that shortly after his accident he underwent major surgery. At the time he was experiencing phantom pains, so when the friends and family members tracking his progress through Caring Bridge asked if there was anything they could do, he asked them to wiggle their toes for him.

“It stuck,” he said.

Wise spent the week learning to tri-track – an adaptive ski technique using one ski and two hand-held outriggers. Holm, on the other hand, became acquainted with a mono-ski - essentially a molded seat mounted to a single ski.

“I’ve definitely picked up a new passion this week,” he said with a grin.

The Minneapolis man has nothing but praise for the Winter Challenge program, particularly the instructors and volunteers who gave so freely of their time throughout the week.

“They are there to pick you up,” he said, both physically and mentally.

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