Profiles in Butternut: MorganJanuary 26, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
From time-to-time, I intend to profile some of Ski Butternut’s awesome employees on this blog. First up, Morgan.
Morgan is 17 years old. He is a high school senior in southern Connecticut, and a ski instructor at Ski Butternut. Like other high schoolers on staff, he primarily teaches in our full-day children’s programs on weekends and holidays when he’s not busy attending classes.
And like all our ski instructors, Morgan undergoes hours of training each season to keep up with the latest teaching methods and equipment, and to hone his own skills.
But Morgan’s ski equipment looks unlike that used by any other instructor at our mountain. As you probably noticed, in addition to the ski boots and two skis on his feet, Morgan also has skis on the bottom of his poles, called outriggers.
Morgan uses this specialized equipment because he was born with spina bifida, a disorder that results in the incomplete formation of the vertebrae of the spine. In fact, in the first two years of his life, Morgan had to undergo more than a dozen orthopedic and neurosurgeries to help correct some of the complications of spina bifida. As a result, he spent much of his early years in the hospital.
But, incredibly, just two years later, Morgan started skiing. At first, it wasn’t easy. Given his physical requirements, and his small stature, there was no proper equipment for him to use. But, determined to ski, his family improvised, and came up with clever solutions like sawing a hula hoop in half for Morgan to hold onto one part of it while an adult held on to the other.
A few years later, Morgan discovered Pat White and Butternut’s adaptive program. At Ski Butternut, we believe that everyone should be able to experience the thrills of winter sports, in spite of any disabilities or challenges they may face. With patient, extensively-trained instructors like Pat White, and the generous support of donors, our adaptive program has the expertise and specialized equipment to introduce skiing to people with a wide variety of physical and developmental disabilities, including blindness, autism, and mobility impairments.
Once under Pat’s wing, Morgan thrived. And as he grew, he was able to ‘graduate’ into more appropriate equipment, including properly-sized outriggers.
As you can see, he’s developed into an exceptional skier. With a deep, smooth, and rhythmic carve, Morgan’s technique places him amongst the best skiers on the mountain, whether on 2 skis or 4, and his hip counter-angles (legs out to the side, shoulders perpendicular to the ground) are worth emulating — all this despite the lifelong physical challenges that spina bifida presents.
And while his skis, boots, and outriggers have improved throughout the years, Morgan is still working to find the perfect equipment set-up. Spending long days on the snow requires equipment that fits and performs well; this is just as true for those of us who use 2 skis as it is for Morgan. Morgan usually wears external leg supports when walking and going about his typical daily activities, but must remove them to wear his ski boots. Along with Butternut’s expert bootfitter, Penny Spoja, Morgan is working to find a better boot solution, and is looking into ski boots that combine some of the roominess and comfort of snowboard boots with the required stiffness and support of ski boots, so that they might accommodate his braces. But ski equipment can be very expensive, and that is doubly true for adaptive stuff.
While chatting on several chairlift rides up together, Morgan told me that he feels that he can do just about anything that his peers can do, as long as the proper adaptations are made. Thoughtful and mature beyond his 17 years, we talked about the things he enjoys, and both his short- and long-term goals. I learned that in addition to alpine skiing, Morgan also skis cross country (his dad is the high school cross country ski coach, as well as a fellow Butternut instructor).
As a high school senior, Morgan has just finished applying to colleges and is waiting to hear back on their admissions decisions. He’s considering a few schools close to home in Connecticut, as well as a school or two further north (with, of course, access to bigger ski mountains). He’d also like to learn to drive a car one day, but is waiting at least until he turns 18 (much cheaper insurance), and until he has access to an automatic transmission car that he can modify with hand pedal controls, a common adaptation for drivers with physical disabilities.
When I told him about my good friend, Carl, who was a member of the US Disabled Ski Team and participated in 3 Paralympics, Morgan mentioned, with characteristic mellowness, that he aspires to ski in the Paralympics one day, too. I asked him if he has done much racing or race training. He said that he’d spent a little bit of time on the race course, but when he’s on snow, there’s one thing he loves doing more than anything else: teaching kids to ski. -rj