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As we find ourselves wallowing in our own self isolations, held up at home from the threat of an untimely viral outbreak, I keep finding myself looking back on the winter of 2019/2020. My entire winter was purely defined by my work with the Vermont Adaptive organization.
I grew up in the suburbs southwest of Boston. I was lucky enough to be able to sneak up to the White Mountains where I was able to learn to ski. I took to it fast, often to the frustration of my mother who was tasked with keeping up with me while holding back for my sisters still at the top of the mountain. God bless her, I had no patience at the time for their slow pace. I suppose she’s inspired me in a way; her kindness and patience for a hyperactive younger me while managing to run a private daycare from home was no easy feat. She shaped my love for skiing, which bloomed into snowboarding later on in high school.
Transitioning from the Boston area to Vermont was principally facilitated by my eagerness to live closer to the mountains. I attended the University of Vermont and graduated in 2018 earning a degree in Biology. Since then, I have worked for about two years at the Community Health Centers of Burlington. I work as a medical assistant there alongside a Family Nurse Practitioner. I am fortunate enough to assist all of her patients, a demographic ranging from five-generation Vermonters, to newly immigrated Americans, and increasingly more and more children. I’ve always wanted to work with others, always believed I’ve had a calling for it. I’m choosing to continue my path along the medical route to continue doing this.
I was first introduced to Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports by my partner, Nicole Walch, a volunteer of now 7 seasons. Within my first experience with the program, shadowing on a mountain man lesson, I fell in love with the work these amazing volunteers do: providing the joy and thrill of this sport we cherish to those who simply need a lending hand for it. Three years have gone by since I first started with the program, each of which have been entirely different in their own realms.
I started with Vermont Adaptive my senior year of college. I was eager then to help out and had plenty of time on the weekends to volunteer around my studies. I did my best to make the most of the opportunity by volunteering anytime I was able. Unfortunately, that was not true the following year.
After graduating, I was hit harshly by the new realization of what paying back student debt truly entails. I worked 7 days a week between two jobs and rarely found time in my schedule to volunteer. If I’m remembering correctly, I believe I was only able to volunteer one day throughout the entire winter. This broke my heart as that one day of volunteering reminded me of why I love the organization.
This story then leads to this past winter. I was determined to be more present at the mountain. I chose to apply for the winter internship with Vermont Adaptive at Sugarbush mountain. Mt. Ellen has always felt like home to me and never more so than this year. Felicia graciously accepted to bring me amongst the team in addition to another hopeful intern for the group, Aidan. I took on this role understanding that my responsibilities would be mostly on the weekends as I still had my role at the clinic to continue.
My responsibilities with the internship varied day to day depending on what Felicia and the group needed. Some days I would be sitting at the desk as the front man, organizing the client profiles and seeing which athletes would be appropriately paired with which volunteers. Other days I would jump into the lessons and teach or assist wherever was required. I’m very thankful for receiving a gift of a pair of skis to help with the skiing lessons as I previously only owned a snowboard. I loved having the variability to perform the wide ranging tasks.
This past winter with Vermont Adaptive taught me so many new lessons and techniques. On the snow, I was able to greatly improve my techniques with skiing and snowboarding. Working with the students and the other volunteers you’re truly able to pick up on the different tricks and tips that different people use to master the skills of the trade. I was able to learn the basis of how to tether a sitski or stand up rig. I’m looking forward to further mastering the technique. During that training, I was put into the shoes of our athletes that require this additional equipment, and it has helped me better understand our athletes’ experience when traversing down the slopes. I was able to work with the ticketing booth, mainly the ever helpful Judy, understanding the chaotic order of the processes behind the RFID system and how to activate athletes’ cards. The gentlemen down in the rental shop showed me how to properly size up a pair of skis and fit an athlete for a certain set of boots, thus helping them to expedite the time inside and getting the students on the snow as fast as possible. With my position I was one of the few who have been the face behind the desk. I’ve learned the ins and outs of organizing the volunteers, a feat in and of itself. Every detail of that administrative side of the job comes with its nuances. I’m blessed to have the knowledge of the service of the full time staff in the goings-on with this organization.
Such a statement leads me to what I really need to say: thank you to all who help with this community. I could go on and on explaining the amazing service of groups like the ski patrollers or lift operators but, I’d like in particular to thank a group to whom I owe my gratitude to throughout the winter. I’d like to start by saying thank you to Norm Staunton. When someone thinks about Vermont Adaptive, Norm is generally the face people have come to know. His love and devotion to the athletes is noticed by all. His direction in teaching lessons and clinics inspires our athletes and volunteers to continue learning and keep laughing. I owe so much of my understanding in my own lessons to Norm. I’d like to thank Andrew Kimpton, one of our very best volunteers. Andrew took the time one afternoon to strap me into a monoski and teach me the basics. I cannot say enough about how important it is to rewrite your own mentality as the instructor and teach the athlete in ways they can understand. That one afternoon completely shifted how I look at the mountain. That leads me to Emily Cioffi. Emily is quite literally the posterchild of Vermont Adaptive. She wholly embodies the reason for our mission. She taught me a number of tricks on how to develop ski racers as she guided our race team athletes at starting of the practice course week in and week out. Through obvious bravery and determination, she overcame her injury and rips down the mountain in a way that inspires everyone lucky enough to view. It’s amazing to hear the admiration of our athletes who look at her as the exemplary role model. Next, I would like to thank Aidan Bass. In sharing the responsibilities of the internship I appreciate the work of Aidan. Knowing that he was around on the week days while I was at my clinic gave me great calmness until I was able to return on the weekends. I am so grateful to have had him on my side the weekend when Felicia was away. That leads me to my final thank you. I cannot express enough appreciation to our Sugarbush coordinator herself, Felicia Fowler. She tirelessly works to manage the constant flux that the job presents. This internship allowed me into the daily life of Vermont Adaptive coordinators, and therefore appreciate her work in a way I never had been able to comprehend before. It is a difficult and complicated and ever changing job that she performs with such patience and nonchalance. I’m so proud to have Felicia leading our team at Sugarbush.
Unfortunately, the season ended all too abruptly. I’m so proud of our athletes for the work they put into improving their skills throughout the season. I’m sorry to the race team athletes who were unable to compete in the Special Olympics this year. I hope that many are able to continue their progress next season. I cannot wait until next winter to continue where we left off, and I’m looking forward to the groundbreaking on the new office space. Until then, we look forward to the summer months. Thank you to Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports and to all who participate.
Until next time,
~Michael St. Germain