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he National Sports Center for the Disabled is based at the Winter Park Resort and works mostly there or in the Denver metro area. It began in 1970 helping amputee patients from Children’s Hospital of Denver participate in recreational activities, such as skiing.
As soldiers began to return from the Vietnam War, marketing director Diane Eustace said, the agency expanded its programs to serve veterans as well. Today, the National Sports Center for the Disabled works with families and veterans from throughout Colorado and abroad, including training Paralympic athletes from several countries.
The network of 50 staff members and more than 800 volunteers assist people of all ages and with a variety of mental, physical or cognitive disabilities, helping them learn to ski, rock climb, go horseback riding and do numerous other year-round activities.
Eustace described the wide range of programs as special opportunities for people with disabilities. Archery classes provide a mental and physical challenge for many clients, who find the combination therapeutic, she said. Learning to cross-country ski is a peaceful and uniquely rhythmic activity for others with conditions such as autism.
“A lot of kids at that age, it gives them something to go back to school and say, `I went skiing this weekend — I did what you did,’ ” she said. “For a lot of them, it’s freedom. If they’re in a wheelchair, they get out of the wheelchair.”
David Coles joined the world of ultramarathon running in part because he was on a quest to improve his health — and he liked the challenge.
Throughout the process, Coles, 36, lost 60 pounds and focused on getting back in running shape — a hobby he’d let go of since his high school and college days. Beginning in January, there were sessions with a running coach, strength training and eventually 20- to 25-mile runs.
But the Castle Rock father of four mostly runs for a cause greater than himself, and he says that’s what makes completing ultra marathons meaningful: Coles runs long-distance races as a fundraiser for the National Sports Center for the Disabled. He does it to give back after the organization worked with his youngest son, 8-year-old Ezekiel, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth.
Coles has logged nearly 1,200 miles in the past seven months and raised about $1,500. He’s completed the Platte River Half, the Colfax Marathon and the 50-mile Silver Rush 50 Run, which took him about 12 hours, he said.
His overarching goal is to raise $3,000. Next up, Coles will take on the Leadville Trail 100 Run, a grueling 100-mile course through the Rocky Mountains, and later the Ridgeline Trail 50K.
“There’s just something special about doing kind of brutally physical activities for an organization that’s trying to help people do physical activities that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” he said.
The National Sports Center for the Disabled operated from the Winter Park Resort and throughout the Denver metro, marketing director Diane Eustace said, to provide people with disabilities with recreational opportunities.
Most importantly, Eustace said the center focuses on helping people learn to do activities as a family.
“It changes their lives, for sure,” she said of the center’s clients.
The National Center for the Disabled made a drastic impact for the Coles family by teaching them how to ski with Ezekiel, Coles said, recalling what the family’s journey had been like before they discovered the center.
“It was really scary at first because there were so many developmental questions that we just didn’t know,” Coles said of Ezekiel’s diagnosis. “We didn’t know what his physical limitations would be. We didn’t know if he would be able to read or talk. We didn’t have any idea.”
He and his wife, Jessica, were suddenly faced with learning about a condition they knew little of and with changing their family lifestyle. Planning vacations or other activities revolved around how Ezekiel could be included. That was a bigger undertaking than they expected, Coles said.
“It’s been a journey of taking it as it comes,” he said.
Thanks to the National Sports Center for the Disabled, planning family activities has become easier, he said.
“We were able to ski as a family and it’s just not something that I thought we would be able to do together,” Coles said. “There was definitely a period of time where it felt like a lot of those family opportunities were kind of lost.”
Eustace said the money Coles raises will go to the center’s general operating budget to assist all programs, but $3,000 could pay for equipment such as a seated ski chair or one of the center’s summer camps.
Ultimately, Eustace was impressed that while Coles runs marathons to support his son he also found a way to help the greater community. And, she said, the center is grateful for more than just the money.
“What I see as more impactful, although I appreciate the money,” Eustace said, “is that passion and that support.”
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