As serious as conservation issues can be, our Wild & Scenic Film Festival also celebrates the beauty of our planet and the amazing ways in which we are able to enjoy its treasures.
In our line up this year, one such film that both amazes and inspires is The Edge of the Impossible, an adaptive skiing adventure in which a wheelchair bound daredevil and one of his coaches/caretakers tackle some of Alaska's most majestic mountains. In the spring of 2014, the High Fives Foundation gave a Winter Empowerment grant to provide the team with the tools and travel necessary for Tony Schmiesing to accomplish this trip to Points North Heli-Adventures in Cordova, Alaska. The resulting film offers a stunning look at the power of the human spirit and the sheer determination that allowed Tony to accomplish the life-long goal of experiencing the weightlessness of pure Alaskan powder skiing.
Here in Madison and Wisconsin, there is also a highly active and engaged adaptive sports and skiing community. In fact, each year Madison Kiwanis West sends a few recipients of their Ethel Allen Ski Scholarship to Durango, Colorado for a downhill ski training program with the national Adaptive Sports Association (ASA). This year's group literally just returned, check out their website for pictures.
Autumn Neugent – a 2014 scholarship recipient who lives with MS and has in the past few years lost mobility to the point that she now relies on a wheelchair – can't say enough positive things about the experience. "Receiving the scholarship to train with the ASA in Durango was absolutely a life changing experience," she says. "Tackling the skiing was just one incredible piece of it. On top of that, I proved to myself that I can do things I would not have imagined I'd be able to do and I met people who have become lifelong friends."
Take a look at the awesome video of ASA's Durango adventures that one of Autumn's fellow scholarship recipients, Betty Merten, shared with us. The photo above is their 2014 ASA group in Durango.
As we talked with some of the Madison residents who've undertaken these adventures, including Shelly Peterman Schwarz, a regular columnist on adaptive lifestyle issues for the Wisconsin State Journal, we heard over and over the words "life changing" and "I did something I never imagined I would be able to do."
A common link for many, including Neugent and Peterman Schwarz, to learn about opportunities such as the Ethel Allen Ski Scholarship and to make other meaningful connections in the community is the Adapted Fitness and Personal Training courses through the UW-Madison Department of Kinesiology. The courses, coordinated by Tim Gattenby, serve a diverse student and community population and for many serve as the catalyst to pushing the limits of what is possible. "I had always been really active and athletic growing up, and Tim's classes helped me find an outlet where I could identify as an athlete again," says Neugent. "Having lost that piece of my identity, it was really important to me to find that again."