Written by Winter Intern, Maret Jessen
It is halfway through the winter season and I could not be happier with my internship at Challenge Aspen. I was not sure what to expect when I signed on for the job, but the people I have met along the way have made this experience so rewarding. First, there are the other interns and APs who, after training and working so closely together, now seem like family. Then there are the pros who are so inspiring with the way they teach and guide their students. Lastly, and perhaps the most important, are the participants. We are here to make their time on the hill a blast and hopefully something they will remember forever. Just this last week, I had the pleasure of working with a young man with Down syndrome. He has been working with the same instructor at Challenge Aspen for over eleven years and watching them work together and seeing the bond they have formed over the years was truly inspiring. On days when we did not work with his old instructor we would ride around the mountain together, talking, laughing, and playing in the powder. He had such a positive attitude and it was incredible to watch his progress. By the end of the week, we were skiing down blacks and in the bumps!
Another great experience Challenge Aspen has afforded me was the chance to volunteer at the Special Olympics booth inside the ESPN tent during X-games. I learned about a program they put on called unified sports, which aims at creating an atmosphere of acceptance and social inclusion by having athletes, with and without intellectual abilities, play sports together. They had Olympic athletes, like Jamie Anderson, team up with Special Olympic athletes as they competed in a dual slalom event. Special Olympics uses sports and the sense of community it brings to not only bring people closer together but to instill courage, promote health and fitness while transforming lives along the way.
I saw a lot of parallels between the Special Olympics and Challenge Aspen mission statements. At Challenge Aspen, we aim to create possibilities for those with disabilities and I witness it happen everyday. The people that come through Challenge Aspen leave with new skills and the confidence that comes with conquering the slopes. I am so glad that I get to be a part of such an amazing organization and it is my hope that we inspire them as much as they inspire us.