SEWASP program teaches people with disabilities to downhill ski

ELKHORN (WITI) — On Thursday nights from the beginning of January through the middle of March at Alpine Valley, there is an awesome outreach known as the Southeastern Wisconsin Adaptive Ski Program (SEWASP).

SEWASP provides adaptive alpine skiing and snowboarding lessons for people with disabilities in southeastern Wisconsin.

“I had no idea that it ever existed. To me, that is just like a light bulb going on — like, I can do this,” Adam Voisin said.

Adam Voisin has cerebral palsy, but that hasn’t stopped him from being an athlete. Voisin took up water skiing three years ago. Skiing on snow offered another challenge.

“With water skiing, it was just being pulled behind a boat. You don’t have to do anything. Here, it is a little more of a workout because you have to use your upper body to do turns left and right,” Voisin said.

Voisin admitted to having a little fear at first — but the second time he tried it, he found that he could more than get by with a little help from his friends.

“As long as I’m working with people who have done it before, then I am more than comfortable,” Voisin said.

“We started with the outriggers out, which is a safer, more comfortable position, and as the day went on, we brought those outriggers in, which allowed for more tilt, bigger, quicker turns, and a little bit more thrill,” Jim Bendtsen said.

Voisin and others with disabilities would never have this opportunity if not for the volunteer instructors who give their time, their talent and their love.

Jim Bendtsen’s daughter has cerebral palsy.

After she became involved with SEWASP nine years ago, he started volunteering. He says he’s a huge believer in the program because of what he’s seen.

“Wounded warriors coming back from service, people with traumatic brain injuries from accidents, people who were born with disabilities, we teach to the highest level of the disability, so if the person has the ability to stand, we try to use adaptive equipment to keep them skiing standing up. If they have the ability with upper body strength, we will be able to maybe put somebody in a chair,” Bendtsen said.

The beauty of SEWASP lies in all the people who give tirelessly to provide the experience of a lifetime for people with disabilities.

Kathy Mohar doesn’t ski, but when it comes to connecting parents to the program, she wins a gold medal.

She’s seen what magic on the hill can do for families and participants alike.

“This young man with autism is showing his lift ticket to people at school, and he fits in. And then you have, where Mom and Dad ski, where brother skis — but we always leave Johnny at home, and then all of a sudden they find out that Johnny could go skiing — and so we get the whole family out there on the hill, doing something that they all love — and that is when you see the grown men cry,” Mohar said.

Imagine the thrill for Adam Voisin’s mom, Lisa and her gratitude to the SEWASP program volunteers.

“They have a lot of patience, and they have a lot of love to give and a lot of laughs,” Lisa Voisin said.

Adam was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was two, so this bucket list experience can’t help but enrich his life.

Without Dave Henderson, SEWASP wouldn’t exist. His vision was born of a community program he saw at the VA Hospital in the early 1990s. The motto is simple, yet profound.

“If I can do this, I can do anything. A wheelchair user may not get to go 20 miles an hour very often, or run down a hallway, or ski down a ski slope,” Henderson said.

“Kids like Adam don’t get the feeling of wind on your face or that ‘speed’ feeling. They just don’t, because they are in their chairs 24/7,” Lisa Voisin said.

“Gravity treats everybody equally on the ski slope,” Henderson said.

“I think, just, the wind on his face, and just that feeling of moving fast is something that he has always loved,” Lisa Voisin said.

“As long as the opportunity is there — try it! Don’t give up. Just try it,” Adam Voisin said.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Southeastern Wisconsin Adaptive Ski Program.

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