DIALOGUE Interviews Bud Keith of Ski for Light

Last year the American Foundation for the Blind recognized Ski for Light for its years of success in the removal of attitudinal and experiential barriers for blind people in mainstream recreational activities. We asked Bud Keith, past president of Ski for Light, to share with us the history of the organization and the reasons for its popularity with participants. Here is what we learned.

Ski for Light, Inc. ® is a nonprofit, international organization that conducts an annual, week-long, cross-country recreational skiing opportunity for blind, visually or mobility impaired and sighted adults working in partnership. The mission of Ski for Light is to teach participants how to cross-country ski in an atmosphere that encourages everyone to embrace the Ski for Light motto, "If I can do this, I can do anything," in all aspects of their lives.

Beyond daily cross-country ski instruction and outings for both the novice and experienced athlete, Ski for Light also offers a wide variety of workshops and cultural activities designed to promote education and interaction among all its participants.

Participants are introduced to the Norwegian culture and heritage that are integral to skiing and Ski for Light. Run entirely by volunteers, Ski for Light has positively affected the lives of thousands of visually and mobility impaired people and the sighted and able-bodied guides who ski with them. Due to constraints imposed by facilities at cross-country ski venues, Ski for Light International Weeks have a target community of between 250 and 350 attendees.

Ski for Light promotes a health-oriented and physically-active lifestyle through the teaching of cross-country skiing and provides a singular opportunity for blind and sighted people to develop a mutually-rewarding relationship based on a shared sport and not on the disability itself. Through the efforts of alumni and friends, Ski for Light offers an opportunity for ongoing activities at the local level along with national and international travel opportunities.

Ski for Light is the only significant program that teaches cross-country skiing. Ski for Light does not compete with any other organizations, and there is very limited opportunity for cooperation with other programs.

The majority of funds come from payment from the attendees, guides and skiers alike, to participate. Ski for Light does have ongoing fund-raising activities that generate donations that are applied toward limited scholarships and administrative costs.

Ski for Light is beyond a doubt the largest opportunity for an approximately equal number of blind and sighted people to come together to focus on something other than a disability. Another benefit is that for a whole week, the group is free from blindness politics.

The current major project being undertaken by Ski for Light is the building of an endowment to help offset the ever-increasing costs of running such a program. When the program began 32 years ago, cross-country skiing was relatively unknown in the United States and many hotels needed winter business. Now cross-country skiing is popular and hotel prices during the winter are considered high season.

Ski for Light alumni have developed local and regional organizations throughout the country. Most of these programs offer year-round activities such as hiking, tandem biking and canoeing. One unique spin-off is Trek for Light, an annual llama trek in the Rockies.

Visit  www.skiforlight.org  to read more about the history of Ski for Light, the organization's future plans and the activities of regional affiliates, or contact Ski for Light, 1455 West Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN 55408; Phone: 612-827-3232; E-mail:  info@sfl.org .

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