A chance meeting that took place at New Zealand's Whakapapa ski area brings world-renowned professional speaker Tony Christiansen to another feat in his name - Snow Skier.
Christiansen had in the past, been unable to balance on a mono-ski as he was top-heavy due to his double amputation. He thought snow-skiing was one of those things that he would never be able to do due to his disability but that was until he met Adaptive Ski Program Coordinator, Travis Thiele.
Christiansen with Travis Thiele at Whakapapa, New ZealandThiele hails from the National Ability Center (NAC) in Park City, USA and for the past 3 seasons, he has been based in Whakapapa during the southern winter months. He is a passionate advocate of adaptive snowsports.
"Travis' enthusiasm is so very, very infectious," Christiansen said. "There I was just sitting on the snow and up runs this hippie with a booming voice, convincing me to ski with him. His child-like excitement was really hard to resist!"
And so as they say, the rest is history.
Thiele hooked Christiansen up in a paraplegic mono-ski which he modified to suit the double amputee and off they went down the slopes of Happy Valley. Christiansen did not fall, let alone had problems with balance and Thiele was suitably impressed. The latter made the disabled speaker ski down the slope again just to be sure.
"I have never in my career, met a first-time adaptive skier who did not fall on their first attempt," Thiele said. "This guy is strong as an ox!"
That same day, they were skiing down the ski slopes from the top of the mountain doing what Christiansen loves most. Go fast!
"I got to motivate the motivational speaker. Awesome!" Thiele said with a laugh.
And merely 5 months later, Christiansen with his partner and 3 other adaptive skiers, signed up for a program with the NAC and made their way to Park City, Utah, home to 3 world-class mountain resorts which together offer over 9,000 acres of skiable terrain and close to 400 ski trails to suit all levels.
The NAC offers a broad range of sports programs and outdoor activities for individuals with physical and/or developmental disabilities. Instructors are trained in adaptive skiing and activities. Some instructors are themselves disabled.
Christiansen with NAC Adaptive Instructor Tom Holmes in Park City"It was a long way to travel but little did I know when I started out that I would do it all over again," the professional speaker said. "I am totally humbled and inspired by this entire experience and everybody here. The things some of these guys do are incredible. I wish we could have stayed another week.”
Christiansen had the opportunity to ski with adaptive skiers of all ages, disabilities and abilities, from young adults incapacitated by cerebral palsy and the cutest blind kids who were brought to the snow for some fun to members of the US Paralympic Ski Team who train in Park City.
"Those guys were going down the black slopes that look like a straight drop down to me! Absolutely crazy!" he said shaking his head.
During Christiansen's trip to Park City, he also discovered the 2002 Winter Olympics Bobsled course and managed to convince the operators to let him go on a ride.
"It's pulling 4Gs at the turns and I could feel the force just pushing me down. That was the most awesome minute of my life! Now I'm inspired to set my sights on the bobsled event at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia."
Well, he certainly would be the first Kiwi to do that at the Winter Paralympics.