How does that work?

Nov. 09, 2009, 12:38 p.m. (ET)

Disabled (adaptive) ski racing has many amazing athletes with all different types of physical disabilities. Ski racing is usually an individual sport. When you go through the start gate... it is you, and only you.

With a visually impaired ski racer, it is a team effort and each athlete has equal importance. A guide is an athlete, too. They are not always treated with that same respect, but people do need to know without a guide there would not be visually impaired skiers. I hope to help educate and change the misunderstanding about a visually impaired athlete and their guide as we continue through this journey.

It is a "visually impaired team," not an athlete and their guide. Guiding is not something just anyone can do. As a guide you have to be just as committed, ski faster and also be able to turn around at any given moment to look behind you at the other athlete when at high speeds.   This is not an easy task, and takes a lot of training as a team.  Finding the right guide is definitely the hardest part for a visually impaired skier. To be able to trust in that person one hundred percent, and find a guide who has the same goals as you.

Well, we can not give you all of our secrets; but will share the generic way things happen on  the race course, and in training. My guide, Rob, always will ski in front so he can tell me what is coming up in the course, and what I may feel as we are skiing down it. We wear headsets that are an open line of communication between the two of us. This allows Rob to continue speaking to me and coaching me as we race down.

Our communication skills as a married couple and on the race course are amazing from this adventure. This defiantly is a challenge because I do rely on what he says and trust he will not forget to tell me about what is coming up. No one is perfect, and there have been mistakes. You can say that is a lot of pressure on a guide.

For me, I am holding on to every word and reacting as best as I can. Rob seems to like the challenge and has grown from this experience. He has to really be careful on what word he chooses, because they can be misunderstood.  As for me I have learned to trust, which is something I have never been good at.  

Our adventure has taught me to trust and believe in my husband/guide. Timing between us is the most crucial part, it has to be just right or I may be using that red or blue gate as dental floss. As you have probably seen by now in our pictures, Rob wears a bright orange bib, which has to be contrast from his speed suit so I can try to pick up on the bib with what little sight I do have. The closer we are, the better.

With disabled skiing there are many different classifications. There are three categories of disabled ski racers - stand up, sit skier, and the visually impaired. These three groups compete amongst themselves.  Times are adjusted within the category based on the athlete's degree of disability. Blind skiers are separated into three groups depending on the severity of their vision loss. It ranges from total blindness to having partial sight.

Visually impaired groups:

  • B1 - Totally blind participants with vision up to light perception / hand movement  (the visually impaired athlete wears  blacked out goggles)
  • B2 - visual acuity of 2/60 and/or visual field of less than 5 degrees (this is my classification)
  • B3 - visual acuity above 2/60 to 6/60 and/or visual field of more than 5 degrees and less than 20 degrees

All visually impaired groups compete against each other; their time is just adjusted to their visual acuity.  I wanted to share this information with you now because the season is about to begin, and I want everyone to know how it works.

To learn more about us, go to our website