FARMINGTON — As a cold rain fell Tuesday, it slowly soaked the figures behind the Farmington Conference Center, who were busy building the foundation for winter activities from a giant mound of snow.

In an effort to be proactive against school violence, the Rev. Dave Lewis of the Farmington Baptist Church reached out to members of the community and youth camp organizations three months ago — and now the SnowCross Camp is a reality.

“It just took off,” Lewis said. “I did not get turned down by a single person that I asked for help.” 

The two-day camp, open to local youths, began Tuesday and included snow games, snowshoeing, live music, guest speakers and lots of food.

The highlight, Lewis said, was the snowboarding demonstrations by members of the Christian youth group organization, Word of Life, based in Schroon Lake, New York, and the nonprofit, This Is My Story, which makes films about professional athletes and the power of faith.

“Instead of bringing them to church, we bring the church to them, and in this case the church happens to be a giant snow mound,” said Kevin Durham, founder of This Is My Story, referring to the snow jump created by the crew.

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The demonstration stage was a tall, slanting ramp for the athletes to gain speed, leading to the giant snow mound, complete with a culvert tunnel to slide across.

“We’ve got some top-notch snowboarders here today,” Lewis said.

He wasn’t kidding. U.S Olympic snowboarder Andy Finch has helped with the Word of Life camps for six years. He said the main reason he wanted to get involved was to “tell kids about the love of Jesus using snowboarding as a platform.”

“(My favorite thing) is hyping up the kids and getting them stoked,” Finch said. “There’s so many unhealthy things they can get involved in. I just love to see them light up and have fun.”

Finch was injured three weeks ago but still helped shovel and design the jump and played a role as a motivational speaker.

Also in attendance was professional wake-skater Matt Manzari who was there to tell his story, which includes two near-death experiences that turned his life upside down.

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The first accident happened in 2012, the weekend of his graduation from college, where he studied ministry. He was in Florida to qualify for the pro tour, and crashed into a rocky shore full of construction rubble. Rebar went through the back of his leg, his jaw was broken, his skull fractured in 13 places and his hand was crushed, among other injuries.

It took him eight months to recover, and then he was back on the water, and continued his mission to bring God and faith to others.

Then, in 2014, he was trimming trees at his church when he was hit with 20,000 volts from a power line, the metal bucket he was in acting like a super conductor. The electricity shot through his upper body and out the top of his head.

He suffered fourth- and fifth-degree burns to his chest and arms, meaning that not only was the skin tissue burned but also the muscle and bone were burned.

“My rib cage, sternum and clavicle were all exposed,” he said. “My wife said it didn’t look like anyone could go from that to being human again. She was four months pregnant at the time.” 

With no skin on his chest and arms, the doctors told him he would likely become septic and die. Because the electricity had gone through the top of his head, they expected severe brain damage, at the very least.

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But after intense physical therapy, more than 70 surgeries and “lots of praying,” Manzari was back on the water three years later. His chest and upper arm muscles were removed, and his wrist fused, but he’s determined to be all he can be.

“I had to come to a place where I stopped comparing myself to who I was,” he said. “I realized I’m a new person. I don’t have the chest muscles or mobility that I used to, so let’s see what I can do.” 

Now he’s on staff with This Is My Story and travels to events such as SnowCross, telling young people how he overcame horrific challenges through his faith.

The attendees of the SnowCross camp were to be treated to a private screening of the film made by TIMS that tells Manzari’s story, called “Miracle Matt.” The film, which has not been released to the public, will be shown Wednesday.

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Nate Peace of Schroon Lake, New York, drops in on his snowboard from an elevated platform during SnowCross Camp at the Farmington Conference Center on Tuesday. Nate Jenkins is at right. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Andy Finch competed for the United States in the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. He uses snowboarding as a platform to help children reach out to God. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Matt Manzari gets ready to drop in on his snowboard from an elevated platform during SnowCross Camp at the Farmington Conference Center on Tuesday. Manzari survived an accident in which he came in contact with a power line. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Matt Manzari came to SnowCross Camp to share his story of near death when he came in contact with a power line. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Tommy Sewall, left, drops in from an elevated platform as Nate Peace waits his turn during SnowCross Camp at the Farmington Conference Center on Tuesday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)


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