Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ski for Light: Amazing and Inspiring

I've been posting a lot about Ski for Light this week because its a great event that is important to Sons of Norway. So far there have been photos, some comments from SofN people on the ground at the event, etc. However there's one facet ofthe event that's been missing, so far: meeting some the participants. I think it's the most important part of the Ski for Light story because when you learn about the skiers and guides, you really get to the heart of the event.

If you read the blog earlier today, you read the following:

"I interviewed someone who has to be the most amazing and inspiring person I've ever had the pleasure of making the acquaintance. I swear my mouth was agape throughout the entire interview (thankfully it was done over the phone, so the only person who saw me looking like a slack-jawed yokel was my wife)."

That someone was was avid skier, rock climber and runner, Maureen Hogg. What makes Maureen such an amazing person in my book is that while she is blind, like many of the SFL skiers, she is also deaf.

It's ok--go ahead and take a minute to let that sink in. I did. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Ok, ready? Good.

When I first learned of the opportunity to talk with Maureen I was very excited, but at the same time I wasn't sure how we would communicate. After all, I was in Minneapolis and she in Utah and for someone who is deaf, a cell phone isn't much good.

Enter Maureen's personal assistant, Audrey Girard. Audrey was on the phone with me, relaying my questions to Maureen by writing the words I spoke in her hands. I would come to learn that it was quite like texting, in a way. Only much smoother and much more articulate.

Here's what I learned about Maureen:

She's a winter sports enthusiast. For starters, she's a member of the 14er club, which, if you are uniformed like I was, means that she has summited a mountain with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. That's right, Maureen has climbed and summited Mt Sherman. In addition, if you hadn't figured it out already, she is also an avid cross-country skier.

Maureen first learned to ski from Jan Henrickson, a former Sons of Norway International Director from District 3. When she was first taking up the sport, she said to Jan "I guess I'm really learning the hard way." Jan responded to this comment with the very simple and profound reply of, "As long as you learn, it doesn't matter how you do it." Personally I think this quote is echoed by the work of all the great people in the SFL family today.

Next, Maureen told me that Jean Eymere, the founder of BOLD, invited her to her first Ski for Light event held in Deadwood SD in 1978. She's always loved cross country because it gets her out into the back country and, though she hasn't tried it yet, believes she'd like it more than downhill skiing because cross-country is more of a workout.

Which brings me to the next thing I learned about Maureen's SFL experience. You see, one of the biggest questions on my mind was more logistical than anything, and you may be wondering the same thing right now--how does she navigate when she goes cross-country skiing? I was totally stumped, until Maureen and Audrey explained it to me.

For most SFL skiers, the guides help navigate by calling out directions and instructions to the skier. However, in Maureen's case, this isn't an option due to her deafness. So, for Maureen, skiing is more tactile experience than it would be for others. While out on the trails, Maureen's guide is always right next to her, and when a direction must be given the guide places their hand on her back and moves their hand in the direction Maureen needs to go. For example, if there is a turn to the right coming up, the guide places their hand in the middle of her back and moves their hand to the right. Or, if the trail heads up hill and to the left, the guide starts with their hand on Maureen's lower back and moves in an upwards arc to the left. Now that its explained, doesn't it seem like such a simple solution?

After that Maureen, Audrey and I talked about this year's Ski for light event. Maureen told me that this year's event has been excellent and that she's had a great time so far. She also said that Soldier Hollow has lived up to its name and expectations. Then, when I asked if she'd reccomend Ski for Light to others who might be considering it for next year Maureen's response was an immediate "yes." She talked about how great the event is and how dedicated the volunteers are. But above all, Maureen was impressed with how well managed the program was.

When I pressed her for an example she and Audrey both told me that, "all the little details a sighted person might not think of are taken care of." A great example of this is how the SFL folks handled the credit card style room keys. Think about it, for a minute--if you can't see which end of which side is supposed to go into the slot, how do you get into your room without trying your key as many as four times? The folks at SFL thought about it and came up with a simple solution of placing a slightly raised sticker on the end of the card opposite that which goes into the door. A simple solution, to be sure, but most sighted people wouldn't have even considered that there might be a problem in the first place.

Audrey commented that it was quite a humbling experience for her and that she thought it was very cool to learn that the Ski for Light is jointly planned by sighted and non-sighted board members. it certainly explains how they can avoid potential oversights (no pun intended).

All in all, this was probably the most interesting conversation I've had in a loooooooooong time. It was also inspirational to see someone like Maureen overcome the loss of two senses that I often take for granted. Knowing that there are people like Maureen, and the hundreds of others skiing today, makes me realize that the only limits to what I/we can accomplish are the limits we place on ourselves. I hope that after you read this, you've got the same great feeling that I have after writing it.

I'll hopefully have another profile later this week. Next time I'm hoping for a guide's perspective, or that of one of the SFL board members. Keep checking back to learn more about Ski for Light, ok? Have a great afternoon!


MJ said...

Wow, great interview. Maureen is truly an inspiration!

Sons of Norway said...

She sure is! It was such an inspirational experience!