For a year and half, we were lucky to have Josh and Janet Caron be a part of the Wasatch Adaptive Sports family. Their contributions were innumerable and their impact unforgettable. Read retired Air Force Master Sergeant Josh Caron’s reflections on his time with Wasatch Adaptive Sports. We wish both of them the best on the east coast as Josh begins law school at Syracuse University.
In June of 2014 my wife Janet and I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah from San Antonio, Texas. I recently finished a career in the United States Air Force and we were looking for our next adventure. We had no hard plans beyond finishing my bachelor’s degree at the University of Utah when we set out on our journey. The experiences we shared during the two years we lived in Utah changed our lives forever. Specifically, my time working with Wasatch Adaptive Sports (WAS) turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Shortly after our arrival in Utah I ruptured a distal bicep tendon in my left arm, which required surgery and a lengthy physical therapy regiment. My summer plans of rock climbing and mountain biking were soon dashed. Two months after my surgery I was in a lecture hall at the University of Utah. Recovering from surgery and not knowing many people helped me to stay focused on school, but coming directly from the military I desperately needed more fulfillment in my life. In January of 2015 I was physically well enough and ready to start a new challenge. I was fortunate enough to earn a position as an adaptive sports instructor with WAS, based out of Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
As an instructor with WAS I was welcomed into the organization with open arms, not only by the management team but also by all of the senior instructors. The instructor cadre felt like a family and Janet and I were quickly adopted in. Everyone associated with WAS is of the same mindset. They all enjoy outdoor recreation, whether that be skiing, snowboarding, hiking, fishing, cycling, or mountain biking. Most importantly they all love to share their expertise, knowledge and skill set with others.
The opportunity to help veterans is what drew me to WAS. As a prior medic I wanted to continue to help our warriors. Although I love our vets, working with children and stroke survivors is why I will forever remember my experiences with WAS. As a critical care and air evacuation medic in the Air Force I had looked into the eyes of many battled hardened warriors as I cared for them. In them I saw tenacity, intestinal fortitude, determination and an unwillingness to quit. I saw the same look in the eyes of our participants as they rose to the challenge of trying and excelling at a new sport or activity.
Whether skiing, cycling, or stand-up paddle boarding, nothing we teach at WAS is “easy.” Of course, a term like “easy” is relative. Someone who is an expert at something may make it appear to be easy, which is why WAS’ director Peter Mandler has all of the instructors sit in a monoski and learn how to ski it before they can go out and teach a monoski lesson. There is nothing easy about monoskiing or anything that we teach for anyone, let alone someone overcoming a traumatic brain injury, a paralyzing injury, a stroke, amputation, spinal bifida, etc…
WAS teaches more than the technical skills required to ski, bike etc…WAS instills confidence. The intangibles are what WAS and their participants are successful at. Yet the intangibles are so difficult to measure.
The participants arrive with an innate tenaciousness, fortitude, and level of determination or they would not have shown up. WAS instructors take what is organically there and exemplify it to levels beyond anything previously fathomable by participants or their families. To witness that unfold as an instructor, to participate in that process and how it made me feel as a person is difficult for me to describe. Please be patient as I try. Say as ski instructors we want to take out one of our participants who I will refer to as “Jim”. Jim is a middle-aged male stroke survivor. Jim struggles to walk, let alone ski. Jim is still very much a thrill seeker who has been deprived of the physical ability to fulfill his recreational desires, so you thought.
Through careful and deliberate instruction and the use of an adaptive ski device, Jim along with 2-3 instructors rips turns at Snowbird and skis independently. Jim is unable to speak in complete sentences, but the ear-to-ear grin on his face and the whoops and “yoo whoos” that are belted out as we careen down the mountain is all anyone needs see and hear to know what type of difference WAS makes. To be a part of that is exhilarating beyond words.
How can skiing improve someone’s life right? WAS helps people build strength, endurance, stamina, and ultimately confidence, tenacity, and perseverance, all of which benefit the individual in multiple other aspects of their daily lives. Sure, we teach people how to bike or ski, but WAS enables people to be fuller versions of themselves. The collateral affect for me was that as an instructor, I was able to become a fuller version of myself as well.
Thank you Peter, Elizabeth, and Jake. Thank you WAS instructors. Thank you donors and sponsors. Mostly thank you WAS participants! You have forever impacted my life for the better! No matter what challenges may lay ahead for me, I will forever be motivated by your example.