OVER 50 YEARS AGO, IT ALL STARTED WITH TEACHING 23 YOUNG AMPUTEES TO CONQUER THE SKI SLOPES.
“Hal, I hate your guts!” That was one of the very first reactions Hal O’Leary received after his first morning out on the slopes with 23 children with amputations. In January of 1970 in Winter Park, CO, Hal embarked on an adventure to create a ski program to teach people with disabilities how to ski.
The National Sports Center for the Disabled’s story began when Winter Park Ski School was looking for ski instructors to teach amputees from Children’s Hospital Colorado how to ski. Hal was the first and only person to raise his hand. With only six days to prepare, he got to work teaching himself how to ski on a single ski with one leg suspended and borrowed outriggers for support.
Nothing could prepare Hal for his first morning with these children. There were many frustrated tears after repeatedly falling down in the snow on a particularly cold and windy morning. But despite all the frustration, Hal soon had them skiing down the hill in straight lines.
By the end of the day everyone was laughing and that very same participant who complained earlier said,
“Hal, I don’t really hate you, I like you, you did a good job.”
From the joy and inspiration of these 23 amputees and Hal’s fierce determination to help them love playing in the great outdoors, we have worked tirelessly to expand on Hal’s vision of seeing the “able” in everyone and believing that anything is possible. Through the last 50 years, Hal has revolutionized the adaptive ski industry and has broken down the barriers between sports and those living with disabilities.
Today, the National Sports Center for the Disabled offers incredible adaptive outdoor experiences from skiing, hiking and horseback riding to rafting, archery, camping and more. And our Elite Athletes come from around the world to train here and ski competitively at the highest levels of their sport.