Rob Wagner helped Ava Gilbert into her skis, preparing her for a first trip down the hill.

Ava, 13, of East Dubuque, Ill., grasped the handlebar of a walker that had been adapted for the beginner’s slope at Sundown Mountain Resort in rural Dubuque. Gilbert, who has cerebral palsy, was about to ski for the first time.

“With her legs, she can’t do as much stuff as she would like to do,” said Ava’s mom, Melissa Gilbert. “This (event) is huge. It’s something that she never knew she could do before.”

Ava was one of nine people with disabilities participating in an annual adaptive skiing event held Sunday at Sundown. The event was organized by Clark & Associates Prosthetics and Orthotics.

“It gives individuals opportunities to do something that they haven’t done before,” said Chad Remmert, Clark & Associates’ director of business development.

Wagner, who coordinates adaptive skiing at Sundown, stood beside Ava, helping her ski toward the top of the beginner’s hill.

“I’m going to be your motor, so I’m going to push you a little bit,” Wagner said.

Clark & Associates had planned to hold its fourth annual adaptive ski event on Jan. 31. Snow that day caused a postponement until Sunday. Remmert said organizers took a close look at Sunday’s forecast before going ahead with the rescheduled event.

“We talked about it at 6:30 (a.m.),” Remmert said. “We were on the fence because of the weather.”

Clark & Associates decided to go ahead, although Remmert said some potential participants from out of town decided to skip Sunday’s event. Previous events have drawn participants from as far away as Des Moines.

“It allows them to meet the same challenges that an able-bodied person might experience and it gets them into some fresh air and have some fun,” Remmert said.

Melissa Gilbert said she was glad the event went ahead.

“It’s cool,” she said. “I had actually never heard of it before, until this year. I saw it on Facebook. (Ava) was super excited about it. Today, she’s a little nervous.”

Wagner gently spoke to Ava as she taught her to shuffle her feet on her skis.

“This is one of the events I really look forward to,” Wagner said.

Wagner provides regular adaptive skiing lessons at Sundown, using specialized equipment to increase access to more potential skiers.

“I was thinking about not doing adaptive ski lessons this year, because of COVID, because I have been pretty locked down,” Wagner said. “But my heart wouldn’t let me not do it.”

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