Disabled Sports USA Hosts The Hartford Ski Spectacular, Dec. 7-14

Nov. 21, 2008, 4:50 p.m. (ET)

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - Disabled Sports USA (DS/USA) has announced it will host the 21st Annual The Hartford Ski Spectacular, the nation's largest winter sports festival for individuals with physical disabilities. The event will bring together more than 800 participants ranging in ability from first-time skiers to members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team (USDST). The event provides ski and race programs, youth mentorship, downhill and Nordic competitions and instructor training. Held at the Beaver Run Resort on the slopes of Breckenridge, Colo., Dec. 7-14, the event is sponsored by The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE:HIG) the founding sponsor of U.S. Paralympics.

"For decades The Hartford Ski Spectacular has helped thousands of disabled athletes gain exposure to the sport-whether they are learning to ski for the first time during rehabilitation or are promising U.S. Disabled Ski Team hopefuls," said DS/USA Executive Director Kirk Bauer, who lost a leg from a hand grenade during an ambush while serving in the Ninth Combat Infantry Division in Vietnam. "More important than the coaching and training participants receive at the event is the sense of accomplishment. From teens participating in youth developmental clinics to Wounded Warriors disabled in service to our country, participants come away from the event realizing ‘If I can do this, I can do anything.' The success and confidence from programs like these can have a profound impact on people's personal and professional lives."

Sharing Stories of Success & Motivation

In this year of the Beijing Summer Paralympic Games, several Paralympians who competed in these games will participate in both learn-to-ski and mentorship programs. When Army SPC Scott Winkler was paralyzed while serving in Tikrit, Iraq, he thought the only sport he would enjoy again was bass fishing. That is, until the Wounded Warrior tried his hand at shot put at a Paralympic sports camp. Now, Winkler, who reached the top five in shot put at the Beijing Paralympic Games, hopes to inspire the 65 disabled U.S. service members who will attend the event.

A total of 119 American Wounded Warriors, their families and hospital staff will participate in the Learn-to-Ski, Learn-to-Race, and mentor programs. For four years, the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project, a partnership between Disabled Sports USA and Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), has coordinated adaptive sporting events for Wounded Warriors across the country. Several Wounded Warriors who have participated in The Hartford Ski Spectacular in previous years are returning to serve as mentors and instructors to first-time participants.

Winkler, the first veteran of the war in Iraq to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic team, holds the world record in adaptive shot put (10.23 meters) and earned gold for shot put and bronze for discus at the 2007 Rio Parapan Games. He will be among the U.S. Paralympic athletes sponsored by The Hartford who will be on the slopes lending support to the Wounded Warriors, as well as the other 800 program participants. "An event like The Hartford Ski Spectacular gives Wounded Warriors like me the chance to get started in sports again after an injury," Winkler said. "Until you try it, you'll never know."

The Hartford Ski Spectacular will offer training camps, as well as Slalom and Giant Slalom competitions to prepare the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team for the 2009 World Championships. The National Race Festival enables aspiring young and Wounded Warrior racers of all abilities to advance their skills alongside the best disabled racers and coaches in the country. Racers put their skills to the test in head-to-head competition at the NorAm races to be held at Copper Mountain on Dec. 8 and 9.

Instructors and volunteers from disabled skiing programs throughout the nation will attend classes on the latest techniques in adaptive skiing methods. The only program of its kind, the Instructor Academy is sanctioned by the Professional Ski Instructors of America/American Association of Snowboard Instructors.

A complete schedule of events and registration information can be found on the Web at: https://www.signup4.net/public/ap.aspx?EID=THEH11E&OID=160

"The Hartford is proud to sponsor this unique and innovative program that celebrates its 21st anniversary of helping people with disabilities learn new skills, build their confidence and take important steps on the road to recovery," said Ron Gendreau, executive vice president of The Hartford's Group Benefits Division, the leading U.S. seller of group disability insurance. "Everyone who participates in this special event leaves inspired and renewed by the awesome display of human spirit and will."

The Hartford Ski Spectacular is sponsored by The Hartford. Additional sponsors include Wounded Warrior Project, Non Commissioned Officers Association, Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Genatt Associates, Professional Ski Instructors of America/American Association of Snowboard Instructors, Copper Mountain (Official Race Site), DS/USA host chapter Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, Competition and Education Chapter National Sports Center for the Disabled, Breckenridge Sports and Schwartz Communications.