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.
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.