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Spring 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

When I Start Skiing I Never Want to Stop

By Rebecca Soto, Student and Paralympic Hopeful, San Antonio, Texas

Editor's note: You are about to meet an amazing young woman. In her own words, Rebecca will describe her experiences about learning how to ski, and how important this activity is in her life. You will be inspired by her story. If you want to know more about Rebecca's skiing experiences or her plans to participate in the 2006 Paralympics in Italy, you can contact her at rebeccaskier@killamail.com. Rebecca will also be speaking at next year's TAER State Conference, April 24-26, 2003. If you would like to help Rebecca meet her goal of getting to Italy by contributing to her ski fund, please make your check payable to: Rebecca Soto, Paralympic Ski Fund c/o Patrick Peranteau at Goldstein, Goldstein & Hilley, 310 S. St. Mary's St., Suite 2900, San Antonio, TX 78205.

My name is Rebecca Soto. I am 18 years old and a junior at Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas. I live with my foster mom, Jan Peranteau.

I was born with retinopathy of prematurity. I remember seeing light when I was younger, but now I am totally blind. I have always been very active. I love jumping on my trampoline, riding a tandem bike with a partner and climbing on monkey bars. So, I was very excited the day my parents, Jan and Pat, told me they had found out about a skiing program that worked with people with disabilities. I wondered if I would ever get a chance to learn how to ski.

A few weeks later, my parents announced that I would be going skiing in March. The adaptive ski program, Challenge Aspen, had given me a scholarship. I would travel with one of the secretaries at my dad's office, and stay with Christine and Gerry Goldstein, my dad's boss. I couldn't believe I was going to learn how to ski.

There were ski clothes to buy.a new ski jacket, gloves, long underwear, ski goggles, snow boots. Mom and I shopped and shopped. Finally, the day came for me to leave. I remember getting on the airplane and thinking, "Is this really happening? Am I really going to get to ski?" On my way to Aspen, Colorado, I kept thinking about the days ahead. Who would ski with me, and how could I do it? When the plane touched down in Aspen, I stepped onto the icy stairway leading down to the ground. I could feel the cold wind blowing in my face and hear the sound of snow crunching under my feet. I put out my hand to feel the soft snowflakes falling. I opened my mouth and let some flakes drop on my tongue. They were wet and fresh. We hurried inside, and there, waiting to greet us was Houston Cowan, the director of Challenge Aspen. He was tall and warm and gave me a big hug. He had this very southern accent, and I immediately felt right at home with him.

The next day I woke up in a cozy log house. Everyone was up early, and talk at the breakfast table centered around me and my first day of skiing. We rushed to put on our clothes and stuffed ourselves into the van. "This is it," I kept saying. I wondered who my instructor would be.


Photo Rebecca and Case Ronde,
her ski guide
We arrived at Buttermilk Mountain and my stomach churned. I began to wonder if I should still do this. I remember waiting in the ski rental line and listening for the first time to the calm voice of my instructor, Johnny Klein. He told me he would call out commands like "Left turn," "Right turn," and "Stop." He also had a bamboo pole that I could hold onto at first. Still, I thought, "How can I ski if I can't see?" His assuring voice told me that we would go slowly and attempt new things as I felt comfortable. He also said that it is very important to trust the instructor and do exactly as he commanded.

My first big step was getting on the chair lift. The chair lift is slowed down for handicapped skiers. And so I began _ first down bunny slopes, then halfway up the mountain, and then, by the end of the day, the top of the mountain. I felt so proud, skiing from the top of Buttermilk to the bottom of the mountain on the very first day. As my skiing improved, I learned to use ski poles. I also had a chance to free ski. Free skiing is skiing when no commands are called and the skier decides when to make turns. I can pretend that nobody is with me. I feel like a sighted person when I free ski.

From that first day, I have loved skiing and know that I will always want to ski. When I ski I get a feeling of forever and a feeling of not wanting to stop. I feel like I am floating and almost weightless. Most of all, I feel like a river flowing and like a bird flying.

Skiing totally blind takes a lot of trust, confidence and concentration. A totally blind skier has to be able to trust the guide and have confidence in that person. That is why I like to really get to know my guide before we ski together. If I am not comfortable with that person, I ask for another guide.

This is my seventh year skiing with Challenge Aspen. I know I will always return because I love it so. Even though I have come back every year, I did not expect Houston Cowan to ask me to start training for the Paralympics. He told me a couple of years ago that he wanted me to try out for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. I would compete with other blind skiers on the same course that the Olympic skiers will use. After much consideration, I said yes. The 2006 Olympics will be held in Italy, and I plan to be there.

Last April I competed with ten other blind skiers in a downhill race at Lake Tahoe, and beat the top male blind skier by six seconds. I almost came in first place, but I fell and came in second with a silver medal.

After two years of training, I am beginning to understand the commitment it will take to get to the Paralympics in 2006. It will require not only numerous trips to Aspen for training, but I must also work out at home to gain strength and endurance. I will need to speak before groups, explain my goals and raise money to attempt these goals. But I believe with hard work, I will make my dreams come true.


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