Vermont Adaptive X Andy's Dandys
VERMONT ADAPTIVE!! YESSS!!! We. Love. Them. So. Much.
Andrew *loves* snowboarding with a passion that knows no bounds. -10 degrees F? Andrew’s on the mountain. “Wintery mix” (AKA slush) pouring from the skies? Andrew’s on the mountain. There are so many things about it he loves. The freedom, the fun, the friendships, the community, the gear - and oh, the wardrobe opportunities! To say Andrew loves clothes is an understatement. He hits the slopes in style with a base layer and T-shirt with a colored logo that matches the second half-zip layer. Gotta have cool goggles of course with interchangeable lenses for sunny and cloudy/night conditions) you get the idea. But being a snowboarder has become a vital part of his identity, has led to lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging, and none of it would likely have happened without Vermont Adaptive.
Vermont Adaptive calls itself “a place where youth and adults with disabilities gain a measure of self-confidence and independence by participating in adaptive sports programs and activities.” Sounds about right! We would call them a fantastic program full of fantastic people doing fantastic things in the name of making winter recreation and the natural communities built around it accessible and available to people with disabilities, like Andrew!
Let’s go back to the beginning. When Andrew was in fifth grade, his special educator Lesha organized a program to take the kids to learn snowboarding and skiing with Vermont Adaptive. (Yes, that’s the same Lesha who would later become a business partner at Andy’s Dandys!) Each week, they’d bundle up and load onto a bus to make the 45 minute trek to Sugarbush Resort. When the kids arrived, there would be Vermont Adaptive volunteers ready and waiting to hit the slopes and teach them how to shred the gnar. It was an awesome opportunity for the kids to be able to learn cool sports and participate in a big part of Vermont’s outdoor recreation community.
Lesha‘s ideas about why Andrew should learn snowboarding rather than skiing were twofold. First, and probably less importantly, apparently snowboarding is harder at first but then easier to get better at faster than skiing. We wouldn’t know; Andrew is the only snowboarder in the family - the rest of us ski.
Secondly, and definitely more critical, was that snowboarding was waaaaay cooler than skiing. This was 2003-2004, still two years before Shaun White’s first Olympic win, and snowboarding as a sport was still essentially still the cool new kid on the block. Add to that the fact that we live in Richmond, a mere 12 miles from Burton headquarters - snowboarding had become all the rage. Lesha knew that Andrew wanted to be like the other kids, and she could imagine him learning to snowboard as a feather in his cap for ‘bro-factor.” He would be a “cool dude,” which she felt would help open doors to friendships with cool guys who could see that someone like Andrew could do something cool like snowboarding too. Remember the crushing importance of being “cool” in middle school?
To be honest, we had our doubts about him being able to snowboard. It seemed like a real stretch because he couldn’t balance well enough on two wheels to learn how to ride a bike… how on earth could he learn how to slide on a single slippery board with his feet locked onto a snowboard?
So they went to Sugarbush maybe four or five times that year. We took time off work a couple of times to go watch Andrew make his way down a very small hill on that board with the para educators and teachers who came with the group cheering on the sidelines as each of the kids successfully, for the most part, stayed upright while sliding down a bunny hill – some in skis and a couple on snowboards.
Learning a sport like snowboarding comes with inherent risks, which became apparent one day when we learned Andrew had hit a tree while practicing a new move. Luckily Andrew was okay and not in the least deterred from snowboarding - he was back at it the following week. The idea of Andrew being out there on the hill without us there to protect and help him was frankly terrifying. But living life without the dignity of risk is even more terrifying, and the benefits have outweighed the risks at every turn.
Things really picked up speed when Andrew met Jeremy. Jeremy was one of the instructors for snowboarding when this program expanded to Bolton Valley, only 15 minutes away from us. Jeremy always made sure he was there when Andrews group arrived. The two of them just really hit it off! Over the years Jeremy would reach out occasionally to see if Andrew wanted to go ride on the weekends, outside of the school program but still within the structure of Vermont Adaptive.Of course Andrew jumped at the opportunity to hang with his brow and enjoy his aprés time is a lodge less crowded with other students and paraeducators as it was during the week.
Jeremy and Andrew became ‘a thing’ at Bolton many weekends during the ski seasons. Jeremy hooked Andrew up with snowboards of different sizes and shapes to try, taught him how to be safe, how to independently get in and out of his bindings and board and all the other stuff that comes with the sport. He totally and completely believed in Andrew’s ability to learn and master skills from the start, even sometimes driving Andrew to Sugarbush himself so we wouldn’t have to make the drive, just so Jeremy could get Andrew onto bigger mountains and challenge him more. Andrew met a lot of Jeremy‘s friends and many other “cool dudes” on the hill.
Suffice it to say, Andrew has indeed become a very cool snowboarding dude. He’s like the “ambassador of cheerfulness,” as everyone around him on the mountain and on the lifts get a good dose of Andrew's positive attitude.
This was probably one of the first big lessons we learned in never underestimating what Andrew is capable of learning when he sets his mind to it. It’s hard realizing when your default inclination had become to expect that he wouldn’t be able to do something as well as someone else, but it’s an opportunity for learning and growth. Andrew has given us a lot of those opportunities, and the fact is: more often than not, he can do things like anyone else, it just takes him a little bit longer to get there.
Andrew has now been snowboarding for 20 years!!! He loves the nice wide blue square groomers, but does he take on black diamonds from time to time? Why yes. Yes he does.
It is our honor to continue to build our supportive partnership with Vermont Adaptive!
See you on the hill!