CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Most of them can't walk normally. And yet, they can ski—they can go flying down a mountain in fact!
All because of a special program based here in Charlotte.
It's been a snowy winter up at Beech Mountain, making for one of the best ski seasons in awhile.
On a particularly cold week in January, the slopes were packed. Among the skiers, were members of the ASAP (Adaptive Sports and Adventure Program) group.
Among them was Alex Martello. Mom Susan is documenting everything.
It's the kind of thing you have to see to believe because Alex can't really even walk on her own.
“No one can ever figure out what happened,” Susan explains, “They know the end result, but they don’t know what caused it, even now.”
The 27-year-old was a healthy, active teen who was on the dance team in high school and an avid skier when she came down with a virus that impacted the way she walked and talked.
Alex remembers, “I noticed walking, I kept looking down at my feet like something's weird.”
She's never completely recovered. Mom has been by her side ever since, even on the slopes.
“The first year I was terrified. But once you meet this program and the people running it, I just feel so comfortable that they’ve got her best interest at heart, I’m not worried at all.”
The ASAP program, ran through Carolinas Healthcare System, helps disabled people participate in sports.
“I didn’t know what to think, I was just thinking, okay, how is this going to work? I don’t know. I used to be a skier but you have to have perfect balance to ski so I wasn't sure how it was going to work out,” Alex says.
It worked out pretty well. Mom is thrilled.
“It’s like a dream come true after seeing her get sick in high school and losing skiing, which was her favorite thing,” Mom said, “She hated losing skiing more than she hated losing her driving license, so last year I just cried for two days in a row watching her and this year has just been phenomenal.”
Bryan Wood is a ski instructor in Colorado, who one week each year spends his vacation helping to get this crew on the slopes.
“Everybody has their own unique challenges and for these guys it’s a little more obvious sometimes,” Wood said.
Ben Vondrak is 5 and is in a wheelchair.
“Because I have Spina Bifida,” he says, “My legs don’t work anymore.”
And yet, we watched him coming down the mountain.
“Practice, practice, practice, that’s the only way you can do it,” 48-year-old Robbie Parks said.
He skis from the highest slope—flies, really, all on his own. And he's a quadriplegic, usually in a wheelchair.
“It’s fun, the first few times you do it, its’ kind of unnerving because you're looking straight down the mountain, but once you start to turn it’s a lot of fun.”
He sits in a bucket, and has outriggers that help with balance. There are a few wipeouts.
“You have trees, you have other people,” he explains.
But mostly it's just pure adrenaline, sheer joy-- for all of them.
Because up on the mountain-- even if they can't walk, they can fly.
The Adaptive Sports and Adventure Program helps people with disabilities get involved in activities year round - including cycling, water-skiing and rugby.
For more information on the ASAP program visit: http://www.carolinashealthcare.org/carolinas-rehab-asap