Challenge of Alaska | Adaption In Action

Paulie | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Girdwood’s panarama, and backyard to adaptive sport program, Challenge AK.

At home in land of the Last Frontier, interactive athletics non-profit organization, Challenge Alaska supports pursuit of excellence under any circumstance.

A long-time partner with Alyeska Resort, Challenge AK’s stimulating platform of sport, inspiration, and learning generates a community-wide ripple of positive thinking to affect staffers, pupils, parents, and public at-large.

Ski fun 101 at Challenge Alaska.

“Participation with Challenge has been said to be life changing for instructors and students,” said Director, Jeremy Anderson. “Even more amazing is the effect our programs have on the family as a whole.”

A proud non-profit organization, Challenge AK has enriched lives at Alyeska and around the state through adaptive integration since 1980.

Organization founder and two-time Paralympics gold medalist, Douglas Keil launched Girdwood’s Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School with a staff of twelve headquartered in a broom closet.

Thirty-five years later, operating from Anchorage and Girdwood slope-side offices, Challenge AK serves over 1,000 clients per annum offering year-round programming crafted to support the community, the family, and the individual. Both sites adhere to a mission that facilitates overall lifestyle improvement, a goal that the organization achieves through therapeutic recreation which pairs education with adaptive athleticism.

Challenge AK at Girdwood. Girdwood.com photo

“Programs like Challenge AK are what got me back into snowboarding,” said Bobby Donnelly, Sport Manager to Team Semper Fi. The on-snow program for disabled veterans brings its advanced riders to Alyeska slopes with the help of Challenge AK. Donnelly is a competitive rider in World Cup events as a Paralympics BoarderX athlete.

“Adaptive programs get people out and having fun,” he said. 

While off-snow events are overseen from Challenge AK’s Anchorage Offices, Girdwood’s Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School has held occupancy of its current on-slope facilities since 1995. A hand woven rug of Nepalese origin hangs over its great room in gifted appreciation from one of the program’s many thankful associates. The 426 Crystal Mountain Road location thrives through the efforts of four paid staff directing a veritable army of volunteers.

Challenge volunteer crew in action.

“Volunteers basically run our programs,” said Anderson. “Without them we couldn’t do what we do.”

Lindsey Kerr of Soldotna is an occupational therapist and veteran Challenge AK volunteer. “I first started volunteering in High School,” she said. “It’s fun to get other people excited about being on the snow. I love the program at Challenge.”

The morning commute outside Challenge AK.

Participants with Challenge AK undergo autumnal, indoor training sessions focusing upon adaptive skills, awareness, and assessment utilized as stepping stone to formal certifications through PSIA and AASI. As the seasons transition so too do the clinics. Outdoor training commences with the opening of ski operations. On-piste educational sessions target comprehension of all on-snow disciplines as well as competent use of all associated equipment.

Volunteer and instructor daily duties detail inter-personal skills and the capable operation of mono-skis, dual skis, snow-sliders and the ski EZ, as well as traditional ski and snowboard gear.

POW day w/Challenge AK.

Challenge AK’s multi-faceted, sport-based line-up builds confidence and mobility while improving overall wellness. Year-round activities include sled hockey, soccer, fishing, camping, book clubs, hospital-based therapy, cooking groups, wheelchair basketball and, of course, ski and snowboard scheduling.

“Community support has powered over three decades of Challenge AK,” said Anderson. “The organization’s biggest challenge now is fundraising.”

“[Challenge] is a feeder program for the Paralympics Pipeline under the umbrella of nationwide organization Disabled Sports U.S.A.,” he said. “And inter-organization communication and cooperation keep adaptive sport moving forward.”

The administravie study behind the skiing. Volunteers prep. dox. while planning the day.

The NPO’s perpetuity is sustained by volunteer efforts, private donations, fundraising initiatives, and the 2005-initiated Challenge Alaska Endowment. Businesses; Amazon.com, Fred Meyer, and filmmaker Teton Gravity Research offer additional support via partnership equating to percentile donations based upon retail purchases.

“Everyone deserves the chance to recreate and have access to the same types of activities,” said Anderson. “[Challenge] creates, and allows to blossom, a level playing field for all.”

(L-R) Challenge leadership, Nate Bolz and Elizabeth Merritt w/John Byrne of Alyeska Resort at recent Girdwood 20/20 gathering. Challenge AK photo

“The future of Challenge AK is owed to the power of community. With its support the organization will continue to evolve the training for instructors and the athletes,” said Anderson. “[Challenge] is all about growth and maintenance of great atmosphere–that relies on community.”

And outlook is bright for the adaptive athletic facility. After two decades of operating, expanding (and owning) facilities that rest upon leased land, Challenge AK has finally secured a complete home package that’s all its own.

Concluding a neighborly land purchase agreement with Alyeska Resort that began two years prior, Challenge AK submitted final payment on the $1.3 million dollar sale, February 8th 2018, sealing ownership of both land and facility for the first time in the storied organization’s existence.

Not likely to rest on accomplishment, the adaptive and therapeutic center now focuses on skiing in the Paralympics at PyeongChang, South Korea. Challenge AK athletes, Andrew Kurka and Grace Miller were invited to compete in Alpine and Nordic ski disciplines.

Forever shred…

“Skiing and Snowboarding are vehicles to overcome barriers,” said Anderson. “[Challenge] has grown from the many years of different participants shaping what we do and how. This is done by sharing creative ideas and willpower.

“That creates an environment where success occurs naturally.”


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