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Paralympians visit Gillette Children’s Hospital

“Oh the hospital,” Jeremy sighed as he began to wheel himself down the hall. It’s a familiar place for many Paralympic athletes. Whether victims of accidents, war injuries, or simply born with bodies that required careful doctor monitoring and care- most athletes competing in the Paralympic Nordic World Cup have logged innumerable hours in hospital waiting, emergency and recovery rooms. Taking a break from their time on the trails, athletes from the US and Norwegian Nordic Teams, joined the Nordic Ski Foundation and volunteered their afternoon visiting the kids and families being treated at Gillette Children’s Hospital.

The group swapped out of their training gear with official USA Team uniforms and Norwegian sweaters respectively. With ski posters in hand, the group traveled the halls poking their heads into rooms and provided a little levity in the hospital air. The athletes were able to ask the kids everything from what sports they like to how long they have been in the hospital to when they would be going home. “It is amazing with what comfort and ease these kids talk about their surgeries,” marveled Denise Remak who volunteered with the Nordic Ski Foundation to chauffeur the group to the hospital. It was a moving experience, both for the able bodied volunteers and the athletes who thanked both Gillette and the Nordic Ski Foundation for organizing the visit.

Heather Ott, Therapeutic Recreation Specialist at Gillette, said that athlete visits are not only inspirational to the kids but comforting to the families of the patients. “What I think is most meaningful is having our kids and their parents see someone who has been in their similar situation not only succeed in life but excel! Those athletes have spent weeks, maybe months in hospitals having surgeries and doing therapy, and now they are on the other side, enjoy their lives to the fullest. It’s hard to demonstrate to our patients and parents of patients that they are capable of really anything they would like to do, it just may be a little different or require an adaption.”

Sarah Edwards, a former Alpine skier who recently converted to cross country skiing, introduced herself to one patient who said he liked to downhill ski. “Nordic skiing?” Edwards explained how someone manuevers in a sit-ski, “all arms” and the patient’s jaw dropped as he imagined climbing up a hill, “that sounds hard!”

Even if they didn’t sell the youth on cross-country skiing, the athletes provided enthusiasm for the patients to lead active lifestyles. One young boy in the waiting room wearing a MN Wild sweatshirt caught the attention of the Norwegian athlete Trygve Larson. The boy said he loved hockey and a lot of his friends play hockey. Trygve, keen on hockey himself, knocked on his prosthetics and explained “sledge hockey” to the boy and his father, a sport he often plays at home. “This would be perfect for him!” Larson exclaimed. “It is a great sport- because he can actually go out and play with his friends.”

Ott, who attended the closing ceremony for the competition, shared that one of the young boys was still talking about the visit. “Thank you for spending time with us here at Gillette,” she reittereated. Our patients are very lucky to have gotten to meet such superb people and athletes.”