Patrick Standen, left, and David Leach demonstrate the adaptive skiing equipment which will be used in the upcoming Empire State Games by adaptive athletes.
The only difference between them and other athletes is the gear.
When the Empire State Games come to Lake Placid in February, disabled athletes will be competing in many of the same sports as their non-disabled counterparts. With specially-made adaptive equipment, and equal parts drive and determination, adaptive athletes will compete in cross country skiing, biathlon, alpine skiing and boarder-cross. Sled hockey will be played as an exhibition sport.
Athletes compete in either standing or sitting events, depending on disability. Blind athletes also compete in all the skiing events, including biathlon.
Athletes compete using a point system, similar to the point system used in golf that allows an amateur golfer to compete on equal footing with a better golfer, depending on the degree of their handicap. Someone with a higher spinal injury, for example, would have their time lowered compared with an athlete who had a lower spinal injury, and thus more use of their abdominal muscles.
Blind skiers ski behind a sighted skier, who calls back information about direction and upcoming terrain. Biathletes use a standard biathlon rifle, fitted with a special laser sight. It emits a differing tone based on how close the shooter is to the bulls-eye.
“The key for me is getting out in the woods in the winter. It’s unparalleled,” said Patrick Standen, who skis in a specially made chair built from aircraft aluminum. “I get a special thrill from this activity.”
Standen has been adaptive skiing for 14 years, and has been a driving force for organizing recreational programming and competitive opportunities for people with disabilities. He also competes in countless summer and winter sports, and is the co-founder and board president of the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association.
For David Leach, who has been competing in stand-up cross country skiing since 2011, the reward is similar.
“The payback is enjoying the outdoors, and being with some really great people,” said Leach. When you get disabled, you can get down and out. This brings you back up.”
Leach lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident. As he skis around the Nordic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hovenburg, you only know he’s an adaptive athlete when he pulls up his right pant leg to show his specially made prosthetic.
The Empire State Games has embraced adaptive athletes, with competitions running in conjunction with the upcoming games. The US Paralympics National Nordic/Biathlon Ski Team will also be running a Paralympic Development Ski Camp at the Olympic Training Center and the Olympic Sports Complex. Athletes will stay in the Olympic Training Center and will train and compete at Sport Complex venues.
According to Jeff Erenstone, who operates Mountain Orthotics and Prosthetics in Lake Placid and Plattsburgh, some of the adaptive equipment can take months to build, and can cost between $2,000 and $5,000. There are some production sit-ski chairs available, but the higher level athletes prefer to have one custom made.
Erenstone produces adaptive equipment for various athletes in both summer and winter sports and activities.
The Empire State Games will run from Feb. 6 – 9, at the Olympic Sports Venues in Lake Placid. A full schedule of events and venues can be found at empirestatewintergames.com/