On Feb. 15, 2016 a group of 14 special teens between the ages of 14 and 18 will have an experience designed to be equal parts enrichment and fun.
The seven boys and seven girls, all amputees, will learn how to ski during a five-day trip to the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado, sponsored by American Airlines in conjunction with Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
This is the 35th year that TSRHC has facilitated the amputee trip and the 11th year that American and its employees have devoted time, talents and resources to the adventure, an aspect of the airline’s culture of service that Suzanne Boda, Senior Vice President – Hubs and Gateways, is passionate about. Boda, who is slated to join Americans with Disabilities’ board of directors in 2016, believes in the NSCD and the experience it provides to participants. “Being involved in the Winter Park Community for many years, I’ve witnessed first-hand what this organization does in building skills and confidence,” she said. Additionally, Boda is passionate about partnering with internal departments at American and external organizations to raise awareness and enhance how the airline supports customers with disabilities.
American Reservations Representative and Abilities Employee Resource Business Group member Bruce Sickler joins fellow employees in hosting a send-off for the excited participants. This year will mark his seventh send-off. He notes that this is the first time many of these kids have even been on an airplane.
“Some of them are shy and we just try to get them out of their shell and put a smile on their face,” he says. “We answer any of their questions. We’re there for moral support.”
Sickler says he is proud of American and the Abilities group and their work to enhance the community by them sharing their perspective and ideas. “We help show [the young skiers] that just because you have a disability, doesn’t mean you can’t overcome and utilize your abilities.”
That sentiment of perseverance, as well as independence, is driven home from beginning of the participant’s trip to the end. It’s a profound experience for the teens, many of whom have never seen a mountain or traveled far from their homes. Two former attendees, Daniel Massey and Patience Beard, were so affected by the experience, they are now attending this year to help work with the teens.
“They get to take a ski trip without their parents, so it’s about learning about independence,” says Don Cummings, director of prosthetics at Scottish Rite. “They come from varied backgrounds. Some may be the only children in their schools who have an amputation; so another aspect is peer support. They get the opportunity to realize they are not alone.”
The ski trip is part of American Airlines Kids in NeedSM program. Donations of miles from AAdvantage® members, who have given more than 170 million miles to support kids in need, help expand the program’s reach.
“It just gives the kids a tremendous opportunity each year,” “I don’t think we could do it without American’s support.”
The American Airlines Kids in Need program provides worldwide support for children and their families, as well as for organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for children with needs for medical, educational and social services issues. Donating miles to Kids in Need directly supports those causes.
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Hometown: Dallas, Texas
A TSRHC patient since he was two years old due to a discrepancy in his left leg’s length, Josiah underwent an amputation in 2012. Josiah is most fond of his memory of falling down the beginners’ bunny hill ”millions of times” during last year’s ski trip. Despite his tumbles, Josiah is keen on hitting the slopes of Colorado again and reuniting with the friends he made during last year’s trip.
Hometown: Wylie, Texas
Since 2004, Sarah had two successful surgeries while a TSRHC patient — one that separated her webbed fingers and another on her amputated leg. She loves whizzing down mountains on her snowboard in the cold, crisp air and finds the snow exhilarating. On the trip to Colorado last year, Sarah loved mingling with other amputees and exchanging funny stories. This year, she yearns to make her friends laugh again.
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Taj never allows adversity to hamper him. Born with a birth defect called fibular hemimelia, he survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans before relocating to Texas, where he sought treatment at TSRHC. A Symes amputation did not slow Taj down — he wants to conquer the Colorado mountains on a snowboard and experience good times again with his fellow ski trippers.
Hometown: Wylie, Texas
The severe clubfeet Erika had during her childhood required her to become a TSRHC patient in 2006. Though she underwent an amputation, Erika charges ahead. For Erika, skiing is a passion so she is very excited about reconnecting with the ski instructors who coached her last year. She also wants to hang around fellow teenaged amputees who identify with the struggles she encounters daily and make new friends.
Hometown: Irving, Texas
In 2013, Jazmyn became a patient of TSRHC’s due to osteosarcoma in her bones. The cancer’s spread required Jasmyn to have an amputation and then be fitted with a full-leg prosthesis. Jazmyn’s participation in and memories of last year’s ski trip means she is clamoring to ski again, enjoy the delicious food and associate with peers who understand the obstacles she must overcome each day.
Hometown: Mansfield, Texas
Alfredo’s status as a TSRHC patient for the last five years has not prevented him from harboring big dreams. First, he wants to go skiing or snowboarding, activities he’s never experienced before but wants to have after viewing photographs of other ski trips. He also desires a career as an orthopedist or as a nurse after attending Southwestern Oklahoma University. Currently, he enjoys artistic endeavors that require the use of paints, charcoal or pencils.
Hometown: Ruston, Louisiana
Despite Whitney’s status as a patient in TSRHC’s Prosthetics Department since 2015, she lives life full throttle. She is a pom squad cheerleader and serves as an Amputee Coalition of America ambassador. Whitney is also training her dog Maple to become a therapy dog, which aligns well with her plan to someday operate a dog-training business. Whitney — who has never been in the mountains or skied — is psyched about taking a trip that will help her gain a new athletic skill, form new memories and establish friendships.
Hometown: Keller, Texas
Cody first became a TSRHC patient when he was six weeks old. At birth Cody lacked his tibia or shinbones and knees. To ensure Cody’s mobility, Dr. Tony Herring amputated his legs and fitted him with prosthetics when he was 17 months old. TSHRC’s support has inspired Cody — he aims to have a career as a pediatric anesthesiologist and is an avid swimmer who will participate in Paralympic time trials this summer. Cody says he looks forward to donning skis and zooming down the mountains at Winter Park.
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
Miranda, who uses a full prosthetic as her left leg, has been a TSRHC patient since 2012. Miranda doesn’t let her prosthetic limit her — she is a member of her high school drill team, plus she performs tap and jazz dance, volunteers at TSHRC and intends to become a nurse. Miranda is excited about being able to add skiing to her list of physical activities during the Amputee Ski Trip to Winter Park.
Hometown: Houston, Texas
In 2009, Joshua became a TSRHC patient due to a case of meningococcemia. Though the infection resulted in his left foot having to be amputated, Joshua is a Boy Scout who skied in New Mexico, plays guitar, indulges in competitive computer games and has attended Amputee Coalition of America camps. In the long term, Joshua wants to become a composer; in the short term, he desires improving his skiing abilities and playing in the snow.
Hometown: Corsicana, Texas
A birth defect termed amniotic band syndrome meant Tatyana had to have her right leg amputated when she was a year old at TSRHC. She not only plays the trumpet in her school’s band but also enjoys spending time with her friends. Her positive experiences at TSHRC have influenced Tatyana to seek a career as a doctor. She is thrilled about having the opportunity to learn how to ski at Colorado’s Winter Park.
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Jeremiah was fitted with a full-leg prosthetic after he developed osteosarcoma in his bones. Jeremiah enjoys playing basketball and video games with his friends and has big plans for his future — he wants to become an aircraft engineer. On TSRHC Amputee Ski Trip, Jeremiah looks forward to two first-time experiences — a plane ride and learning to ski.
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Because Natalie lacked a fibula bone at birth, she underwent an amputation of her left foot at TSRHC at just 11 months old. Natalie’s amputation did not dampen her enthusiasm for life. She participated in TSHRC’s Learn to Golf programs and also donated the proceeds of lemonade stands to the hospital. She plays video games, plays the piano and sketches and paints. She yearns to become an artist one day, but in the meantime highly anticipates the fun she’ll have on her first Amputee Ski Trip.
Born without arms and legs at the elbows and knees, Daniel became a TSRHC patient at two years old. Going on his first TSRHC Amputee Ski Trip at only 12 as the youngest attendee ever, Daniel fondly remembers how older attendees showed him how to be confident in his ability to drive, date, and participate in athletics. Daniel tells first-time ski trippers to connect by being totally honest with themselves and others and exchanging experiences. Today, Daniel is a husband, father, coach and mentor.
Patience is an excellent instructor on the TSRHC Amputee Ski Trip because she recalls the fears she felt on her first trip and advises newcomers not to “let fear keep you from trying.” Patience, whose left leg was amputated below the knee at just eight months due to a birth defect, is grateful for the friendships and the confidence derived from her previous trips as it enabled her to become a Razorback Cheer Squad member and pursue completion of a Communication and Religious Studies degree at the University of Arkansas.