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Disabled Skiers Hit The Slopes

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A new program in Sioux Falls is helping patients with disabilities experience something they never thought possible.


When Jim Kapperman hit the slopes at Great Bear on Saturday, he didn't stick to the bunny hills.

When you see him in action, it's hard to believe this is his first time on a pair of skis.

“Never thought I'd ski in my life,” said Jim Kapperman.

It was 15 years ago that a construction accident changed his life. At the time, doctors wondered if he was ever going to be able to walk again.

“I remember everything and in the emergency room they told my wife, I could hear them out in the hall, you should probably get ready for a quadriplegic,” said Kapperman.

Jim did walk out of the hospital, but has been wheelchair bound for the majority of the last 15 years. But on Saturday, thanks to Sanford Hospital and Great Bear Recreation Park, Jim and seven other patients, facing similar obstacles, were able to experience something they've only dreamed about.

“It's all about having opportunities for those that are less able that everybody else can do as well,” said Kevin Horner, a Physical Therapist at Sanford Hospital.

Horner works with disabled patients in Sanford's Accessible Wellness Program.

“We've been running that program for about a year and through that program we've been looking for different opportunities for these individuals,” said Horner.
That's when they came up with the idea to team up with Great Bear, creating an Adaptive Skiing Program that allows individuals with disabilities to have a new lease on life.

“It's like taking someone hunting for the first time, teaching someone to do anything. If you can give that to someone as a tool and hopefully promote some independence through that it's awesome. It's a good thing,” said Rob Flannery, Director of the Adaptive Program at Great Bear. 

Flannery said it takes training not only on the slopes, but off them too. He says it takes a lot of coordination to make this program possible.

“Typically a sit skier will take about 3 people. One person on the tethers that you see and then two people on the outskirts kind of keeping things safe and making sure it runs smooth,” explained Flannery.

Simply loading one of the skiers onto the lift can be a challenge. 

“The lifts are little bit rugged. There's a center post in the middle that makes it kind of challenging. So usually we can get away with three people as well on the lift. We usually stop the lifts here to keep it as safe as possible,” said Flannery.

Challenge or not, with every trip down the hill, Jim Kapperman is proof that even with a disability, nothing can slow him down.

“Oh I think I'll be back. There will be some more times yes indeed!” exclaimed Kapperman.

Sanford's Accessible Wellness program plans on making the Adaptive Ski Day a yearly event. They also plan on doing a similar program at a water-park this summer.

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