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‘An awesome experience’

Severance Kelley continues to set new goals as a paraskier

Created date

November 25th, 2015
Nearly paralyzed by post-polio syndrome since 1992, Dr. Severance Kelley relearned to ski using a sit-ski and two short outrigger ski poles at the National Sports Center for the Disabled at Winter Park, Colo.
Dr. Severance Kelley relearned to ski.

Remember Dr. Severance Kelley? The nearly paralyzed Wind Crest resident who decided to hit the slopes? 

If you do, you might also remember that after one day on a dual sit-ski in March 2014, he set his sights on more—or less, you might say. “My goal is to go more often and hopefully get to the point where I can use only one ski and not need a trainer,” he said in September 2014.

Last March, he hit the slopes again—five times, in fact. This time with an intergenerational group of fellow paraskiers through the National Sports Center for the Disabled’s (NSCD) Access Ski program. 

Awesome experience

“The Thursday Access Ski program is targeted to adults with physical challenges and brain injuries,” says NSCD Customer Service Representative Kelly Howard.  

Severance acquired his disability through post-polio syndrome, a condition that affects polio survivors years after recovery from an initial acute attack of the polio virus. Severance, who had polio as an infant, enjoyed many years of active living and downhill skiing but developed muscle weakness and atrophy in both legs. By 1992, he gave up his beloved winter sport.

Now 24 years later, he’s hearing the whoosh of snow under him again—though the logistics have changed. “It is an awesome experience, and I think it’s just a matter of doing it more and more to get better at it,” Severance says. “It’s an entirely different way of [skiing].”

He says his goal last season was to graduate from using two skis to one ski, “But I didn’t quite make it. I used two skis and had fun doing it.”

And while he gained a sense of autonomy and adventure, he also lost his initial apprehension of mounting and dismounting the ski lift. 

Above all, Severance remains positive and patient, which may be why he’s the oldest Access Ski participant ever. 

“When I was skiing with good legs and was able to go down a slope leisurely with a moderate amount of speed, those were probably my best moments. Though I’m moving in that direction, I haven’t quite achieved it yet.”

It just gives him something to strive for. And he’s ahead of his status last season when he said of his first time: “It wasn’t thrilling because it was like starting all over again. I still had to learn how to ski in an entirely different position and to make much more use of my arms and upper body to assist with turning.” 

Having learned the basics and conquered his apprehension of the ski lift, this season promises to be his best yet. 

Access exhilaration

Severance will strap on his sit-ski again this February and participate in the Access Ski program at Winter Park. 

NSCD sends a bus to various locations around Denver to pick up participants and shuttle them to Winter Park Resort, about 1.5 hours from the city. Tickets—which run about $215 for alpine ski or snowboard and $165 for cross country ski or snowshoe—include transportation, lift ticket/trail pass, equipment, and instruction weekly for five weeks.

Howard says about 15 people participate in alpine skiing, while another 35 or so continue on to the Nordic program for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing.

Access Ski runs in two sessions: January 7 – February 4 and February 11 – March 10. 

“It’s a very cost-effective program and an awesome experience,” Severance says. 

You can watch Severance learn sit-ski with NSCD’s Access Ski program by clicking here for a YouTube video.

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