Among those converging on the Sun Valley resort area this week for the fourth annual Sun Valley Nordic Festival are 18 disabled athletes.
The Ketchum-based Wood River Ability Program is welcoming the group, which includes sit skiers, U.S. military amputees, visually-impaired stand-up skiers and well-known Paralympians—all determined to enjoy what Nordic Town USA has to offer.
Probably the most well-known of the expected athletes is U.S. Paralympian Andrew Soule, 33, of San Antonio, Texas. A sit skier who attended Texas A&M, Soule became the only American in either the Olympics or Paralympics to win a medal in biathlon when he captured the 2.4-kilometer pursuit bronze in 2010 at Whistler, British Columbia.
A member of the Army during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2005, Soule was seriously injured by a roadside bomb. Both his legs were amputated above the knees. After his rehabilitation, he took up hand-cycling and then cross-country skiing in Sun Valley six years ago.
Soule is one of seven U.S. military athletes in the 18-athlete field hosted by Wood River Ability, said program Director Marc Mast. The group and its coaches will take part in four Nordic races while also celebrating Sun Valley’s recent designation as a U.S. Olympic training site for cross-country skiing, Mast said.
Paralympic coaches attending are former Olympic cross-country skier John Farra, former Olympic biathlon athlete Rob Rosser, recently retired U.S. biathlon athlete Bethann Chamberlain and coach Greg Rawlings.
Besides Soule, the military athletes are:
Shawn Chasisher, 37, of Camillus, N.Y. (stand-up skier, totally blind); Omar Bermejo, 32, of Ketchum (stand-up, arm amputee); Doug Stuart, 62, of Boise (stand-up, walking quadriplegic); Justin Widhalm of Colorado (stand-up); current U.S. Nordic Paralympian Jeremy Wagner (sit ski); and Kevin Burton, 30, of Boulder, Colo. (stand-up, visually impaired).
Other sit skiers due to arrive are “Tilly” SueMac Hatcher, 37, of Atlanta, Ga.; four-time Paralympian Bob Balk, 46, of Moravia, N.Y.; Lizanne Kudrow, 52, and Beth Livingston, 47, both of Bozeman, Mont.; Candace Cable, 68, of Truckee, Calif.; Ken Lacomb, 52, of Questa, N.M.; David Poole, 28, of Bozeman; and Jet Turner of Hailey.
Stand-up skiers are three-time Paralympian Willie Stewart, 51, of Boise (arm amputee); Chad Riggs, 36, of Hailey (below-knee amputee); and Sam Kavanagh, 33, of Lakewood, Colo.
They will train at Lake Creek on Tuesday, Jan. 29; compete in the U.S. Masters Championships prologue races at Sun Valley Nordic Center on Wednesday; do a biathlon race Thursday, Jan. 31, at Lake Creek and then join the Ketchum Town Sprints that evening; and many will do the Boulder Mountain Ski Tour full or half courses on Saturday, Feb. 2.
Wood River Ability Program seeks to promote physical and mental health for people with disabilities through sports and recreation. Director Mast has 30 years of ski instruction experience and is the Sun Valley Snowsports School’s director of adaptive sports.