MANSFIELD -- Lauren Sampson has a zest for adventure. Her mother sums her up in one word -- fearless.
Sampson, 24, was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop her from kayaking, horseback riding, rock climbing and even skiing.
“She’d ski every day if she could,” said Sampson’s mother Stacey as volunteers helped Lauren into a snow kart.
The kart features a bucket seat situated atop two skis, along with arm levers that control speed, braking and direction. It’s just one of the many gear options that allow virtually anyone to glide down the runs at Snow Trails with help from the Adaptive Sports Connection.
Sampson started skiing about six years ago through ASC’s program. The Powell-based not-for-profit exists to empower children, adults and veterans with physical and cognitive challenges through sports and therapeutic outdoor recreation.
“She's always had to adapt with whatever she does. That's why we found these guys. They make all of that possible for her,” Stacey said. “Sometimes when you've got a physical disability, you need something that doesn't make you think about that, to go out and have fun like everybody else.
ASC offers between 12 and 15 adaptive ski lessons each Saturday, according to Maddison Mattey, director of sports and volunteers.
Mattey hasn’t just seen the positive impact that sports can have on a person’s life, she’s experienced it.
“I wear a prosthetic from a birth defect. When I was little it was not a big deal. My parents were great and we did everything all of my friends did,” Mattey said. “As I got older, it became apparent that I wasn’t as good at sports as my able-bodied friends.”
Mattey discovered ASC in middle school when she visited Snow Trails with a group of friends. She was about to duct tape a ski to her prosthetic when volunteers from the program approached her and asked if she wanted to try some adaptive equipment instead.
Soon, Mattey was whizzing down the slopes with more speed and finesse than anyone in her group.
“I was a way better skier than the rest of my friends and I was hooked,” she said.
“I look back on that day and it really changed my mindset. I think most of all it changed my outlook on myself. I stopped looking at the things I couldn’t do and I started looking at the things I needed to adjust so that I can do them.”
A key factor in the program’s success is its volunteer base. Friendships form quickly among the tight-knit group of volunteers and athletes. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms.
“This is one of the best groups of people I've ever seen. They just give and give and give,” Stacey Sampson said.
Keith Overton said the sense of community and joy from the athletes are what keeps him coming back week after week.
“It’s cool to see people do something that they think they could ever do,” Overton said. “We've got new people today with recent spinal cord injuries and they probably thought they'd never be on a pair of skis again. Then they're out here doing something, rushing down the hill and enjoying the outdoors.”
Lauren’s first volunteer instructor was Gwenn Denorme, a dedicated supporter of the program with an effortless knack for making people feel comfortable.
“Gwenn was super passionate. Not only did he come to us as a really good skier but he connected with people in a way that was really unique,” Mattey said.
Denorme served as a board member and regular volunteer ski instructor until his death last year. ASC will hold a service at Snow Trails honoring Denorme on Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. in front of the Adaptive Sports Connection office, located between the rental office and the lodge. ASC will also unveil an annual volunteer award in Denorme's name.
Guests can purchase a ticket to the ceremony for $25 or gain access by purchasing a Boundless Hope on the Slopes fundraiser ticket and redeeming it on Feb. 27. All proceeds from both the ceremony and the fundraiser will benefit Adaptive Sports Connection.
Those who book their lift ticket on Feb. 27 will also receive a $10 Snow Bucks gift card for a meal, a free tee shirt and the chance to win a pair of skis.