Living the Mountain Family Dream

December 1st, 2017

Oscar is a small boy with a big personality. An eight-year-old with a type of dwarfism called kniest dysplasia, Oscar has restricted ambulation and mobility, but he doesn’t let his disability define him. If Oscar’s mop of blonde hair and pair of black, rounded glasses are eye-catching, then his quick wit is endearing and his huge, carefree smile is heart-melting.

Oscar’s older sister Olive is more soft-spoken. She was born profoundly deaf, and at nine years old she tends to prefer quiet observation to being the center of attention. Olive has blonde hair like her brother and brown, soulful eyes that can sometimes say a lot without words.

Oscar and Olive’s parents Amy and Kenny Shrum took their kids to Ignite for the first time in January 2016, and the whole family loved the experience. By the end of the season they even became the de facto poster family for Ignite when they vouched for the program in an Ignite video-interview for the 2016 gala benefit.

In the interview, Oscar described how riding in the bi-ski made him feel as if he was “flying in the air like a bird.” Olive talked about how she progressed quickly enough on alpine skis to do her first blue run: “I was a little scared at first but I did it. It was really amazing that I did it.” And for Amy and Kenny, Ignite meant that their dream of a “mountain family” that loved “skiing and being outdoorsy” was no longer impossible for their kids with special needs.

The family has come far since they started, but this past year at Ignite was definitely a change of course. When Oscar’s favorite Ignite instructor David Levin was diagnosed with cancer and eventually passed away, it was difficult for Oscar to adjust. His mom Amy can still tell that David is on his mind, and sometimes Oscar will tell her “I miss David.” Partly because David wasn’t available and partly to explore more independent options, Oscar tried out snowboarding this year. The hope was that the fixed snowboard bindings might solve some of the difficulties he would have with alpine skis. Seeing Oscar “get up on his own legs” is a goal for next year, Amy says.

Olive’s experience was much different. Because Olive’s able-bodied, Amy felt like her abilities had graduated her from the Ignite program. Olive only skied with Ignite twice in 2017, and Amy would often take her skiing on her own. However, the time away from Ignite reminded them how much they valued the program—skiing as a family is fun, but sometimes kids are more receptive to non-parental instructors. Regular group lessons aren’t an option either because Olive can’t hear instructions, so Amy is looking forward to finding an Ignite instructor in the 2017-2018 season that will push Olive and “take her over on the big hill.”

Outside of Ignite, the Shrum kids are continuing elementary school and finding time for other sports. Oscar is transitioning into third grade at a new school for the deaf and blind this fall where the environment might be more supportive for his disabilities. This summer he went adaptive sailing for a day and did a handcranked bike race with Adaptive Adventures. Olive is transitioning into fourth grade. This summer Olive attended her first two weeks of overnight camp with Avid4Adventure where she was “off-grid” and had to power her cochlear implants with a solar charger. “There’s no doubt that Ignite has helped facilitate that level of confidence to be in the outdoors,” Amy said. Olive is also playing soccer now, which is another challenge with her hearing loss.

As the winter gets closer, both of the kids are looking forward to returning to Ignite. “The kids talk about it and we look forward to it every year,” Amy says. And this year is no different.

Aaron’s Story

November 28th, 2017

After 16 years of skiing and snowboarding in the Colorado Rockies, I knew that attending graduate school in Florida would be different, but I had no idea that I would never descend the mountains in the same way again.

I began skiing from the time my family moved to Colorado at the age of six. As time progressed, my skills increased alongside my love for the mountains. At the age of 16, my curiosity and desire for adventure led me to replacing my skis with a snowboard. I told myself that I would go back and forth between the two, but nine years later I still have not gone back.

After graduating from Colorado State in 2013, I made the tough choice to leave the mountains I loved so much to go to graduate school at Florida State.

Beginning in June 2014, I started having increased difficulty with my sight. On July 3, 2014, my dad and I sat in a doctor’s office and listened as the doctor told us I had a hereditary disease known as Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), and that my vision would continue to decrease.

Hearing this news was crushing as someone who had 20/20 vision for the first 23 years of my life. By December, I had lost most of my vision and, as there is no cure, my sight has remained there to this day.

I was both excited and sad as I returned to Colorado that winter. I was excited to be with my family and friends, but sad that I would not be able to snowboard ever again. Soon after arriving home, a family friend called and shared that there was a program which would allow me to get back on the mountain, and wanted to know if I was interested.

I immediately and excitedly said yes, and began to wonder how exactly a legally blind individual went about snowboarding. After speaking with members of Ignite, I made plans to go to the resort. My brother and girlfriend joined me at Ignite that day in December 2014 and we met Nick, my instructor for the day.

We spent the morning on the ground practicing the various commands and techniques which we would later use. Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to get on the ski lift and try out what I had learned.

There was a learning curve, and this experience was different than my previous years, but slowly I began to get the hang of it. Throughout the entire day, Nick was an excellent instructor, but more importantly, he was patient, kind, and friendly. Nick and I had gone down the mountain together, with him directly in front of me and my hands on top of his, to guide me down the mountain.

At the end of the day, my brother and girlfriend rejoined me and what they saw not only shocked them but had us all overcome with emotion. Through Nick’s instruction and my previous years on the mountain, I learned to snowboard down the mountain solo while using verbal commands.

After losing my sight, I thought that getting back on the mountain would be impossible, but through the work and instructors of Ignite I was able to recognize just how capable I really am. More of my story and video of that last run can be viewed at my website aaronreistad.com.

Snowboarding with Ignite five months after beginning to lose my sight was the first experience I had which showed me that my sight might have changed, but that did not mean my life had to. Since this experience, I have graduated from Florida State with my Master’s, gained employment with Ohio State, gotten back into hiking, and returned to Colorado in September to hike my 17th Fourteener and the first one since losing my sight. Through my time with Ignite, the fuel of my previously adventurous lifestyle was ignited and I now do not allow my ability to limit me.

~Aaron Reistad

Like Aaron, each year more than 200 people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities benefit from the snowsports activities provided by Ignite Adaptive Sports. Getting up to Eldora and experiencing the joys skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing, is often the highlight of a student’s winter.

As Lives Change… Ignite Changes Lives

February 12th, 2017


By Drew Prinster

Melanie is a former English teacher, current bi-skier, and future skydiver–but above all, she’s a lifetime adventurer. Her multiple sclerosis severely limits her motor control and speech abilities, but when she’s on the slopes and strapped into her bi-ski, she can go anywhere and inspire anyone.

Melanie tried her first bi-skiing escapade over five years ago when a family member from Estes convinced her to fly out to the Colorado mountains from her home in Chicago. The on-slope wind chill was a blistering -40°F, but even the arctic temperatures couldn’t dull that first day’s adrenaline rush. She was hooked.

Since then, Melanie and her husband Bob have resettled in Estes largely for the access to the Colorado ski slopes and Ignite’s quality instructors. Training was slow at first. She’d ski in intervals of 20 feet between instruction stops, but every 20 feet was 20 feet of freedom. Right away, Bob recognized Ignite as an outlet that “gave her options; she didn’t have to sit in her wheelchair, she didn’t have to be inside, she could actually participate in life.”

Many of Melanie’s fondest memories at Ignite are moments culminating from long-term growth, such as when she first tackled Mule Shoe, one of Eldora’s longest and steepest expert level runs. At other times, however, she’s just along the ride at the trustworthy hands of her longtime instructor Jason. During one of Eldora’s biggest snowfall years, for instance, Jason steered Melanie through moguls that Bob describes as “huge, probably four feet high, and it was like boom boom I could see their heads popping in and out of the bumps.” That exhilaration is what Melanie lives for.

“Melanie doesn’t like anything as much as she enjoys skiing,” Bob says. She usually starts thinking about it around July. She’s tried indoor skydiving and she’s looking into adaptive water skiing to satisfy her excitement craving in the warmer months, but it’s the consistency and care of the Ignite program that she values. She ends every day “grinning ear to ear,” Bob recalls with a hearty chuckle. And today is no different. As Bob lifts his wife from her sit-ski and cradles her thin frame, you can see it on Melanie’s face. A radiant smile, and two steady, gleaming eyes that are already looking forward to next time.

Who Wants a Ginger Ale?

January 13th, 2017


By Drew Prinster

Oriah is a sweet 6-year-old girl with a bright smile and a contagious laugh despite her difficulty hearing. She loves the new Disney movie “Moana” as much as she loves cheetahs. She started out this year skiing at Ignite with the help of tethers and what she affectionately calls a “thing-a-majig,” a modified bungee cord that keeps the tips of her skis together. On her second day, however, she wanted to challenge herself.

At the top of the first slope, she chose to go without tethers, and soon after she was taking the lead, could turn and stop without the “thing-a-majig,” and improved her balance technique when her instructors told her to imagine carrying a tray with cups of ginger ale down the mountain. She was excited for adventure, and wanted to tackle challenges like Fun Gulley and the rollers at the Tenderfoot Terrain Park.

When asked about her favorite parts about skiing, she said “exercise,” “stopping,” or simply “skiing.” Next time she’s at Ignite, she wants to work on “the ski lift!” because “it’s fun, and you get to take a ride.”

As rapidly as Oriah is progressing, she only wants the same for others. Her advice to any kids like her thinking about skiing with Ignite is to “be listening” and “be polite to trainers so that they help you … so they’ll take you skiing. And you want to go skiing, I bet.”

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