After Mankatoan Lynette Volkman injured her spinal cord in college and lost the use of her legs, she came to miss the physically active part of her life.

Several years later, she joined a program that allowed her to ski with special equipment and volunteers to help her use it.

Volkman continues skiing, though for different reasons.

She’s a mom now, and likes to have a chance to step out of that role and be herself once in awhile.

She also enjoys watching the progress and burgeoning independence of her fellow skiers in the adaptive skiing program, which has been offered by Mankato Community Education and Recreation for the past nine years.

It was a beautiful skiing day at Mount Kato Sunday, and there was an all-time high of eight adaptive skiers to enjoy it. The company gives free lift tickets to participants, and the program pays for the volunteers.

There was Lilly Stiernagle, a six-year-old girl born without femurs, or thighbones, meaning her shins are attached to her hips. Volunteers hold her hands and guide Lilly down the slopes, though she can go by herself slowly.

Lilly has short legs, but likes her speed.

“Fast, fast, fast, fast,” said said afterward.

Jacob Vasquez, 17, of Mankato, is blind but determined.

He skis with only the feeling of his feet on the ground and the guiding voice of volunteer Lynn Schwarz, whose constant direction Vasquez trusts implicitly.

Schwarz guides him in wide zig-zags down the slopes, teaching him how to manage his speed and keep in control, while other skiers simply let gravity take over, bombing down the hill at full speed.

“Once I do it over and over again, I get a feel for (the slopes),” he said.

Vasquez is building confidence and comfort so that one day he can be independent.

The skiers have various abilities, and some use a “bi-ski” — essentially a bucket chair attached to a pair of skis. Those with more upper arm strength use a “mono-ski,” which can be operated entirely by its rider with no assistance.

They use modified ski poles called “outriggers,” which are sort of like metal crutches with mini-skis attached to them.

Volkman, who is a quadriplegic because she has only limited use of her arms, uses a bi-ski while tethered to a volunteer who skis behind her.

The most difficult part of the process, for bi- and mono-skier alike, is reaching the ski lift. Those on the mono-ski can crank a lever to lift the bucket seat to the bench’s height, and bi-skiers must be lifted onto it.

Mount Kato raised the ramp to make reaching the hovering ski lift easier on both children and people with disabilities, assistant manager John Nelson said.

Megan Bening, 14 and blind, ran into a “slow” sign and got the wind knocked out of her, but was in high spirits afterward, just as she was the entire time.

“It was funny,” she said. “Poor (volunteer) Sandi (Ewel) felt worse about it than I did.”

The skiing officially runs from noon to 2 p.m. on Sundays, but it was cracking 2:45 p.m. when Bening walked into the chalet.

For all their equipment and various disabilities, the skiers aren’t afraid to go fast, and they learn control in a way that others don’t.

Julaine Trapp manages the program and said their biggest need right now is a trailer for their adaptive skiing equipment, which costs between $2,500 and $3,200 per piece.

Volunteers are always in demand, too.

“If you don’t have the volunteers, you don’t have the program,” Volkman said. “That’s where the heart of this program is.”

Progression in skiing skills toward independence is a theme of the program.

Jesse Volk, 29, uses a wheelchair but can ski almost entirely independently. He’s in his second year at the program and said he can’t wait to start going off the jumps in the terrain park.

Next Sunday, maybe?

“Maybe next year,” he said with a laugh.

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