Soaring with Spirit: Eagle Mount's Life-Changing Ski Program

Soaring with Spirit: Eagle Mount's Life-Changing Ski Program

Holder, Jill
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The ski experience is full of stories, from bottomless powder and deep blue skies to boilerplate moguls and train-wreck wipeouts. Eagle Mount embodies not only this enthusiastic pursuit of fun and adventure, but also a deep sense of camaraderie. Whether the sport is skiing, snowshoeing, swimming, horseback riding, fishing, golfing, kayaking, or horticulture, there is always a magical mixture of participants who inspire everyone around them and volunteers who are willing to share their passion and skill.

All those who come to Eagle Mount are asked about their personal goals and dreams. A plan is then mapped that focuses on a person’s abilities rather than disabilities. The shared goal is to build confidence and reach the greatest level of independence—and to have an enormous amount of fun.

Doug Kraft was raised in Corvallis, Montana and moved to Bozeman in 1992 to attend MSU. He might be mistaken for Will Ferrell with his sense of humor and goofy facial expressions, although it’s hard to imagine him wearing tights like in the movie Elf. Doug has worn many hats in the Bozeman community: an MSU student, a middle-school teacher who makes math exciting, a rowdy outdoorsman, and a great friend. He is no longer a college student but all the other descriptions still fit. On October 6, 2001, a dirt-biking accident landed Doug in the hospital and rehab center for two months. A T-4 spinal cord injury is something most of us cannot even fathom—an injury that paralyzes one from the chest down. It’s a life changing event that requires a shift in mindset as well as overcoming some extremely challenging physical barriers.

Doug remembers that the hardest part was coming home, where “remnants of your former self are everywhere.” He found himself grabbing onto things that gave him some normalcy. One vivid memory of those early days was an evening when he sat down and watched a baseball game with friends. At that moment a door opened. “This is something I can do that feels normal,” he thought to himself. It wasn’t long before Doug began to think about regaining other important aspects of his life—namely, outdoor activities.

Doug dove into skiing with Eagle Mount using the most challenging piece of equipment he could have picked for his T-4 injury: the monoski. There were many exhausting days in the beginning—being a new paraplegic, his arms weren’t as strong as a 10-year veteran and his balance not as well established. But Doug persevered, never once doubting his decision. His friends, too, held fast; on many occasions, pals Jennifer Royale and Rick Alexander showed up to support their committed comrade, giving him a little good-natured grief and helping pick him up after a fall.

Over the course of three years, a deep camaraderie and respect developed between Doug and one of his instructors, Keith Pendill (also a mono skier). In 2005 Keith encouraged Doug to work on a more aggressive body position. And after several weeks of hard work, says Keith, “everything fell together. Doug was linking turns and began to look like the skier he dreamed of being.”

“Once doors start opening and you accomplish something you didn’t know you could do, a mind-shift takes place,” reflects Doug. “You start going into activities knowing that you can do it and that makes all the difference.” This new perspective gave him the confidence to tandem-paddle on an overnight kayaking trip with Eagle Mount. Like many participants, Doug’s experience was so positive because he had once again become a part of all the things people love about Bozeman: having an active lifestyle, hanging out with friends, building a campfire and sleeping under the stars on the bank of a beautiful river. Realizing that your active outdoor life will continue to grow, despite a devastating injury, is an incredibly liberating experience.

Doug now kayaks, monoskis, and hand-cycles avidly. There is no denying that his accident affected his life. He says it’s not necessarily better or worse, but his perspective is different. He now takes the time to enjoy the little things more and is grateful for his friends old and new.

Eagle Mount provides opportunities for people to reach their potential, whatever that might be. Celebrating the little things more and creating opportunities that we might not have dreamed of on our own make up the essence of the programs. Eagle Mount’s work is summed up by the slogan “Soaring with Spirit, Building Community, and Transforming Lives.” Eagle Mount is currently recruiting for the winter session, so call 586-1781 or check out www.eaglemount.org.




Last year, Eagle Mount served 788 participants with physical and developmental disabilities, utilizing over 1,000committed volunteers who together put in over 21,000 hours of service to our community. Winter programs include downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and swimming. Volunteer training begins in early January.
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