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Murray’s Winchester Park hosts weekly visits from Wasatch Adaptive Sports

Jul 27, 2017 09:46AM ● Published by Carl Fauver

Jim rides trails in the summer and skis in the winter thanks to Wasatch Adaptive Sports (Carl Fauver).

Gallery: Wasatch Adaptive Sports [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

The non-profit Wasatch Adaptive Sports program has been going strong every winter, since BYU and San Francisco 49er legend Steve Young was in high school.

Since 1977, Wasatch Adaptive Sports (WAS) has provided ski lessons, lift passes and specialized equipment, designed to help get wheelchair-bound Utahns back into the great outdoors.

And a decade after leaving high school — and becoming the household name we know today — Young began providing his support, through the Steve Young Ski Classic, in 1987.

“We get 75 to 80 percent of our annual revenues through the ski classic,” said WAS Founding Director Peter Mandler. “Last year we raised about $360,000 from the classic…and in its 31 years the event has raised right around $4 million.”  

Raised in California, Mandler moved here to earn a sociology degree at Utah State University “and to be close to skiing.”

He soon began teaching ski lessons at Snowbird. Out of that, Wasatch Adaptive Sports was born.

“I believe my sociology degree helps me understand and appreciate how much those with disabilities get out of remaining active,” Mandler added. “I helped them do that through the Snowbird Ski School for a few years. But by 1983-84 we had become so busy, I had to create a new organization.”

WAS now provides about 3,600 ski lessons each winter, at almost no cost to the participants.  Snowbird remains the organization’s biggest corporate donor by providing office space and ski lift tickets.

“A good 95 percent of our participants pay nothing,” Mandler said. “And although we have served people from all over the country and world, 90 to 95 percent of our participants live here in Utah.”

Through the years, many participants asked WAS if they could also come up with some activities for those months when snow shovels are packed away.

“This is our third year offering summer activities,” said WAS lead instructor and mechanic Alex Mansir. “After dozens of years offering ski lessons, we’ve now expanded to include bike riding, fishing, kayaking, camping, paddle boarding and other activities.”

Jim, 59, is one of those who joins in, summer and winter. He suffered a stroke several years ago and Danny Heaps with Chrysalis (an organization that provides support and opportunities for individuals with disabilities) is the residential manager of his West Jordan group home.

“Jim (who prefers not to use his last name) is always happiest during the summer and winter, because that’s when he’s active,” Heaps said.  “In the spring and fall he gets a little frustrated since there’s not as much to do.”

Jim — and several other WAS participants — gather Wednesday mornings in the summer at Murray’s Winchester Park, along the Jordan River near 6400 South.

Another pair of regulars are siblings Heather, 19, and Aaron, 16, who both have spina bifida. Older sister Michelle and mom, Colleen Martindale also often join them at the park.

“This (trail riding) makes them more mobile, which also makes them feel more confident and independent,” Colleen said. “We learned about Wasatch Adaptive Sports three years ago while we were visiting Snowbird. It’s a wonderful program.”

In addition to weekly stops in Murray through the summer, WAS also trailers its recumbent bicycles — both hand and foot-powered — to Salt Lake’s Liberty Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and down to Utah County (normally along the Provo River Trail) on Fridays.

WAS has six full-time and 14 part-time employees. Various corporate donors round out the necessary revenues not raised through the annual Steve Young Ski Classic.

Veteran Snowbird Ski Patrol member and ski instructor Ed Chauner is one of those part-time WAS employees.

“I think what makes this most rewarding is, these people have been dealt a tough hand…and, for many of them, it has put them in a dark place,” Chauner said. “I love to see the light come back into their eyes after they have had a positive experience skiing or bike riding.  They become addicted to these activities and you can’t keep them away.”

Learn more about WAS at wasatchadaptivesports.org.  

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