Maine ski program helps the blind see life differently

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CARRABASSETT VALLEY — “Anthony’s here!” Noah Carver said excitedly.

The energetic 8-year-old was born with a rare condition called Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Although Noah had never seen his friend from New Jersey, he recognized the familiar voice over the dozens of boisterous conversations around him. He left the table where his parents, Suzanne and Richard “Buzz” Carver, sat eating their lunch to find his buddy and share the morning’s adventures.

“He doesn’t miss much, and he’s not worried about going off alone,” his mother said. “He’s been skiing since he was 3.”

The Carvers were three of more than 200 people attending the five-day New England Blind and Visually Impaired Ski Festival at Sugarloaf Ski Resort, Feb. 12-16.

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Noah’s father said he decided to take a guide-training program after watching his son become a more self-assured skier. Guides learn the techniques that will help him work with his son and other sight-impaired children and adults.

“I’m a lobsterman, and we’re about a five-hour drive away, but this is something we couldn’t miss,” he said. “This guides’ program is phenomenal, and it has taught me more than I’ve learned in all my years of skiing.”

The NEVI Fest provides a chance for social, recreational and educational experiences that are free for the visually impaired. Participants could never experience these opportunities without generous donations of time and money from hundreds of volunteers. The winter program, originally called Maine Handicapped Skiing, recently changed its name to highlight the variety of recreational opportunities for people with physical disabilities.

Eric Topper is director of community outreach for Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation. Formerly an Outward Bound instructor, he travels the state to pursue support for the programs.

“We do a lot to ensure that participants have a successful experience,” he said. “We have to provide adaptive equipment, train the guides and get support from businesses and individuals.

One of the primary benefits of the Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program, Topper said, is social time with others. Many of the participants from rural areas have limited support systems.

He shared a story of one young man who suffered injuries that left him in a wheelchair. When he returned to his home, he realized that his life had changed forever. After sitting alone, eating packaged foods and delivery pizza, he realized he had to make some important decisions. He came to the ski program, and as he acquired skills and confidence, he decided to do much of the remodeling of his home and began to cook his own meals again.

“Skiing changed the way he looked at his life,” Topper said.

For more information about the New England Blind and Visually Impaired Ski Festival at Sugarloaf Ski Resort, call (207) 824-2440 or visit www.nevifest.org. For information about Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, visit www.maineadaptive.org, or call (800) 639-7770.

For more information about the New England Blind and Visually Impaired Ski Festival at Sugarloaf Ski Resort, call (207) 824-2440 or visit www.nevifest.org. For information about Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, visit www.maineadaptive.org, or call (800) 639-7770.

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