Adapted Fitness returns to ParaBirkie ski race after three-year hiatus

Clients of UW–Madison’s Adapted Fitness program and volunteers from the Leadership in Adapted Fitness (LAF) student organization made a triumphant return to the ParaBirkie ski race on Feb. 24 after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clients of UW–Madison's Adapted Fitness program, caregivers, and student volunteers pose for a group photo at the ParaBirkie ski race
Clients of UW–Madison’s Adapted Fitness program, along with caregivers and student volunteers, pose for a group photo at the ParaBirkie ski race in Hayward, Wisconsin.

The Adapted Fitness program is offered through the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology.

The ParaBirkie is a 3.7 km cross-country ski race event held during the American Birkebeiner (“Birkie”) in Hayward, Wisconsin, each February. The Birkie is the largest and longest cross-country ski race in North America.

“Although the bad weather threatened to cancel our participation, six clients, four family caregivers, and 15 LAF student volunteers made their way to Hayward as soon as the weather and the roads cleared,” said Kecia Doyle, the interim director of the Adapted Fitness program. “All clients finished the race and received medals for their participation.”

Adapted Fitness clients were able to take part in the event thanks to the efforts of LAF student board members Jeremy Hart, Nick Overturf, Hailey Reeve, and Monica Repinski, who organized, funded, and facilitated their participation with support from an ASM travel grant

Student volunteers accompanied the Adapted Fitness clients on their races solely for the purpose of support. Otherwise, clients ski the race in sit-skis using their own arm power. Student volunteers are not allowed to walk the course and must either snowshoe or ski with their client.

During the fall semester, Doyle created a special section of Adapted Fitness for its clients who are, or want to become, para-athletes. The clients worked with student volunteers to train for the ParaBirkie.

As part of that initiative, Doyle says she also fostered a cross-departmental collaboration with faculty in the Athletic Training Master’s Program (Andrew Winterstein, Shari Clark, and Patrick Hills-Meyer) to include their AT graduate students. These graduate students also took part in the fall special section by offering training suggestions and mentoring to undergraduates as they worked with Adapted Fitness clients to prepare for the ParaBirkie.

In addition, members of CXC Ski in Madison also helped with training in preparation for the competition. And Autumn Neugent and Jim Hammen, who were among the first-ever ParaBirkie ski participants, also helped organize the event.

Learn more about adapted skiing and the sit-ski, including its connection to UW–Madison.

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