This handsome young man beside me is Brendan, and he is a senior in high school. You have no idea how hard this is for me to believe, unless you know Brendan too, and where he’s been. He lives with his dad Pat, sister Kai, brother Dylan and is very close with his Grandma Sue. His mom, Maxey, who had also been a coach at New England Disabled Sports and dear friend, passed away from cancer about two and a half years ago. Geoff introduced me to adaptive coaching about ten years ago when Brendan was just a little fellow. Both Brendan and I were easily overwhelmed by the old adaptive sports office! I vividly remember being on an icy trail with him on a cold day and taking forever to make it down because the of the sound the ice made on the bottom of our skis. That scraping sound we know as New England skiers bothered his ears a great deal.
However, on the day the above picture had been taken a few weeks ago, I suggested, “How about a top to bottom Bear Claw run to warm up?” figuring a nice easy green to start the day.
Brendan replied, “No, no, Upper Picked Rock” in a steady voice which had already been decided. Wow. Really, I thought, he isn’t messing around these days, and I looked at his dad who nodded and shared how much braver Brendan had become on snow. I see him every day at school, and we chat, but I hadn’t skied with him during a lesson in at least three years. We skied Sunset off of North Peak and even Rampasture, more challenging blue squares certainly. He’s come a long way since Bear Claw. And even though there was a little ice still on a steep section, Brendan just skied across the ice and didn’t look back. I felt myself tear up thinking about how much Maxey would have loved to watch that. At one point, he needed to be talked down a little bit by his dad, who was skiing with us, but after side slipping just a few feet, he tackled the rest with confidence. I could not believe what a good skier he had grown into remembering him in a power wedge that could have gone on for days because he was always a strong kid; and now at 6 feet something, his turns are mostly parallel, and he takes in the scenes around him no longer just watching his own feet. He probably won’t ever ski with poles, and he might sing a song now and then while coming down. Honestly, I hate poles too (don’t tell my husband- the “professional”) and a little music never hurt anyway.
Brendan will walk with his class this year at graduation, probably coaxed down the aisle by a few peers. I will be a mess wishing his mom could be there too with the rest of the family. He has played Unified Basketball with his brother and some amazing partners and coaches connected through Lin-Wood and Profile Schools; he skis regularly with New England Disabled Sports, rides bikes in the summer, and attends camp for kids with disabilities; they also go on overnight camping trips with their dad and fun road trips with Grandma. When Brendan first started playing basketball, he couldn’t actually stand on the court during the game. The other night, not only could he go in for a few minutes, but he even touched the basketball, and in the “fifth” extra quarter, he shot the basketball towards the hoop. These are big steps for this no longer little boy. He has his first part time job this year, which like any first job for any kid has had its ups and downs. Transitions are hard for many, myself included! He has different para professionals throughout the day who help with transitions, organization, or transportation to his community service or first real job.
We chatted about different animals on the lift, movies he has seen, and his mom in heaven. He points to the sky with mittened fingers and a smile on our chairlift ride and tells me, “Mom’s in Heaven.” We talk about what she loved about skiing and how proud she would be of him growing up like he has. He knows an animal for every letter in the alphabet except X, which is impressive. Brendan has real friends at school, kids in his class who have helped to nurture him since the day he arrived back in sixth grade after moving from Nantucket. They help to discourage the behaviors we don’t want Brendan displaying, modeling for other kids what is appropriate and inappropriate for high school students. I smile remembering a moment last year, my last one having Brendan in my English class, when another young man said, “Brendan, big boys like us don’t curtsy.” And Brendan smiled and stopped his curtsy mid dip.
I love this picture of Brendan and me, his smirky smile, with a teenage boy squint like he can’t decide if he really wants to participate in this picture or not. But for those of you who know Brendan, he makes it very clear when he doesn’t want to participate in something. He has an incredible teacher in Nancy Bartlett, the very best combination of sports coach, parent, and teacher, as she has been all three. When we are right in the middle of a situation which can often be complicated or frustrating for teachers and parents, we sometimes forget how far kids have come– both able bodied and disabled alike. In chatting with Pat about this blogpost, he shared, “When you consider what these guys were like when they were little and then see how far they have grown, you realize how amazing they really are.”
Maxey would love this picture too- to know that all of her children were still skiing and skiing well, something she and Pat both loved to do- to know that Brendan was being the best behaved version of himself- to see how handsome and grown up he has become–to know they are being challenged to read, and speak, and use their words daily– and to know that they are growing up and being loved by their dad, and Grandma Sue, and relatives and friends, and teachers, by their friends at school and a whole community.
There are incredible programs for people to get involved in if they are interested in adaptive sports for people with physical or cognitive disabilities including Eastern Adaptive Sports on Squam Lake (www.easternadaptivesports.org), New England Disabled Sports of Loon Mountain and Bretton Woods (www.nedisabledsports.org), Northeast Passage at UNH, Adaptive Sports Partners at Cannon Mountain, and Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports just to name a few. Check them out and get involved!