News & Stories

Minne-Loppet Program brings sit skier to life at Nellie Stone Johnson

Written by Lindsay Tsakistos- Physical/Health Disabilities teacher at Nellie Stone Johnson.

Skiing before snow, Program Coordinator Margaret Adelsman pulls Jabril in his first skiing experience on grass.

Jibril is in third grade; has muscular dystrophy; uses a power wheelchair for mobility; and has participated in the City of Lakes Cross Country ski program at Nellie Stone Johnson every Tuesday for the past two months.

When we heard the Nordic Ski Foundation would be running a cross-country skiing unit at Nellie Stone Johnson for our third graders, Julie Ellingson, the Physical Education instructor, and one of our Special Education Assistants brought it to my attention, and we wondered what we should do for Jibril. Margaret Adelman, the Program Coordinator for the Nordic Ski Foundation, had offered to bring a sit ski for Jibril to use during the unit which we thought would be a neat idea.

So – at Jibril’s annual IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting, Julie and I (his case manager) asked Jibril and his parents what they thought. His protective mother was hesitant at first, as she was afraid he’d get cold. However, Jibril and his father immediately said that they wanted him to participate. So – with the family’s permission and Jibril’s interest, we moved forward with the plan to have Jibril try the sit ski.

Jabril and his team of attendants join the other young skiers on the Minne-Loppet course.

Margaret had the ski ready for Jibril on the first day that the rest of the kids got to try their skis, so it was a very “normal” experience for everyone. Everyone, including Jibril, was a little awkward and yet very excited on their skis for the first time. It took some creativity for the ski to work perfectly for him. Due to his Muscular Dystrophy, he has very limited control of his trunk and neck muscles, along with all the other muscles in his body, so he needed a head rest and some chest supports. With the creativity of the team around him, Jibril soon had a life jacket around him to support his trunk, and a new contraption to support his neck and head. Jibril was asked if he wanted to continue with the ski unit and his response was “YES!”

It took some devotion from our special education staff and Julie for Jibril to continue, as for most of the unit, there was very little snow, so pushing and pulling him on the grass was a tough physical task. However, both women acknowledged Jibril’s desire to participate and had him with his peers every Tuesday for the ski lessons.

Jibril joins a Paralympian from Russia on the trail.

Jibril’s peers have been witnessing him do “everything” that they do all year, so seeing him in a sit ski wasn’t THAT remarkable to them. They certainly thought is was cool and were very glad to have him with them outside for skiing. On the day the Paralympians came to talk to Jibril’s class about being a Paralympic athlete, one of the sit ski coaches from Elm Creek brought 6 sit skis for the Nellie Stone Johnson students in our Physical/Health Disabilities class to try out. Many of Jibril’s “able bodied” peers were able to try the sit skis out as well.

When I met up with Jibril at the Cook County Minne-Loppet last weekend, he arrived with his mother and two brothers. There was a team of 3 teachers waiting and ready with Jibril’s sit ski. Because Jibril’s cab ride was late, we had to hurry to get him out of his power chair, into the sit ski, and to the beginning of the race with the rest of the kids. When we finally got to the beginning of the race, I asked Jibril how he was feeling. His response was “a little nervous”. I assured him that many of the students that day were feeling nervous too. Propelled by the power of three devoted teachers, Jibril began the race with a very big smile on his face and searching eyes for his mother and brothers. Along the race, Jibril was often shouting “Run! Run”. When the race was over, his brothers ran up to him and were speaking to him in Somali. His response to them was “it was awesome”.

On the Monday after the Minne-Loppet, all of the students from Jibril’s class who participated in the race were able to share what the experience was like. Jibril was able to share his favorite memories, just like everyone else. This is experience is exactly the goal of our Physical and Health Disabilities Program at Nellie Stone Johnson; to allow our students to participate in everything their peers do, even if it has to be done a different way.