The Hartford Ski Spectacular is one of the nation’s largest winter sports festivals for people with disabilities. Photo courtesy Disabled Sports USA.

Determination on the Mountain

Ski Spectacular Empowers Disabled Athletes

by Dr. Margaret Harrell, Director of Programs & Partnerships, Bob Woodruff Foundation

The Bob Woodruff Foundation has proudly supported Disabled Sports USA’s adaptive sports programming over the past 5 years. New to BWF, I wanted to get a firsthand view of their work and recently attended the 29th Annual Hartford Ski Spectacular at Breckenridge, Colorado.

There, more than 800 participants with disabilities — many of them injured veterans — had the opportunity to learn a winter sport. The offerings ranged from skiing and snowboarding to curling and sled hockey, and all activities featured state-of-the art adaptive equipment.

Shawn Cheshire, an Army veteran, hits the slopes at the Ski Spectacular. Cheshire lost her eyesight following a TBI, yet has become an accomplished nordic skier, runner and cyclist. She medaled in rowing and the 100-meter race at the 2014 Invictus Games in London, and represented Team USA in cycling at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Top-notch instructors guided the participants, while world-class Paralympic athletes roamed amidst them and offered encouragement. DSUSA’s motto illustrates their intent:

“If I can do this, I can do anything.”

I spent two glorious and insightful days skiing with veterans who are not defined by their blindness or lost limbs. In many cases, their grace and skill on the slopes belied their disabilities. I skied several outings with blind veterans, largely undaunted by the mountain. I skied several runs with an Army veteran named Matt Melancon, before I knew he was an amputee, athlete and motivational speaker.

I even shared a chair lift with innovative scientists devoted to improving prosthetic devices, who participated in Ski Spectacular to learn from the athletes.

As I look back on Ski Spectacular, thank you to DSUSA for your tremendous hospitality and what you do everyday to ensure that disabled veterans are equipped, instructed, physically challenged, and mentored to translate those victories into everyday life.

And kudos to my new veteran friends, for learning (or re-learning!) some fantastic and challenging winter sports; proactively striving towards wellness; and for your passion to learn, share, and ensure that others thrive.

Margaret Harrell with medically-retired Marine Sgt. Jon Lujan. Lujan was Team USA’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

About Disabled Sports USA: Founded in 1967, Disabled Sports USA is a national charitable organization that provides opportunities for individuals with disabilities to develop independence, confidence, and fitness through participation in sports. What began as a program to serve Vietnam veterans has since grown into one of the nation’s largest multi-sport, multi-disability organizations, annually serving more than 60,000 wounded warriors, youth, and adults with disabilities. A member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Disabled Sports USA offers programs in more than 50 summer and winter sports through its nationwide network of more than 120 community-based chapters. For more information, visit

Like what you read? Give Bob Woodruff Foundation a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.