The young man is securely strapped into his seat. He bobs in the water as the boat slowly moves forward to take the slack out of the line. He braces slightly as he’s tugged forward, the tips of his main ski and the outrigger boards on either side poking up out of the water. He signals the boat that he’s ready. The motor revs, the rope pulls tight, and he’s quickly up on top of the water. The bright summer sun is no match for the shining smile on his face.

For over 25 years, St Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute’s most popular and well attended program has allowed many of its participants to get wet, feel the spray on their face and experience the thrill of crossing a speeding boat’s wake.

Ski Fest consists of adaptive (sit) water skiing, tubing and boat/Jet Ski rides. Being pulled around a lake can work up an appetite, so participants are treated to a barbecue lunch. The ultimate goal of the weekend is to get people outside and just have a good time. Secondly, St Luke’s wants to educate the individuals, their families and caregivers on how they can get out on their own and enjoy water sports and recreation. Staff members give tips on what kind of equipment will work best given their function along with some techniques to ensure safety and enjoyment in the water.

The participants come from all over the Inland Northwest. Most have been through the St. Luke’s continuum. There is no limit to the range of individuals who participate, but they all share one characteristic in that they are limited somehow from participating in what most of us would consider just another activity. The diagnosis can range from spinal cord injuries, amputations, congenital conditions (cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down Syndrome), to stroke survivors, head injury survivors, etc. Ski Fest is all-inclusive, which means it is for individuals with physical and mental disabilities. Families and caregivers are encouraged to attend as well.

Adaptive equipment allows a skier to participate in a range of water sports from skipping over the lake on an inner tube to competitive skiing. Many leg and arm amputees use the same equipment as able-bodied athletes, but adaptive devices such as sit-skis and shoulder slings accommodate various levels of ability. One adaptive setup includes outriggers on either side of the main ski. This is used when someone is first attempting skiing and for those that have little to no abdominal muscle strength or limited balance. The outriggers help the participant stay upright and provide the experience they need to get them ready for a single ski. For many volunteers, seeing the reaction of a first time skier is one of their greatest rewards.

Several organizations that donate resources or sponsor Ski Fest include the Clear Lake Homeowners Association, Rocky Mountain Medical, Cure Medical, Inland NW Personal Watercraft Club and Spokane Parks and Recreation. According to Candice Belcourt, Recreation Therapist at St Luke’s, it’s the volunteers who make it all happen. Anywhere from 15 to 30 volunteers assist with overall safety on the land and water, driving boats or Jet Skis and setting up and breaking down equipment. Volunteers also help balance skiers so that they can get up and jump into the water to assist once a skier has fallen or let go of the rope. Most of the volunteers are current or previous employees at St. Luke’s.

Ski Fest 2015 is scheduled for the weekend of July 18-19 at Clear Lake near Cheney, Wash. For information about participating or volunteering, contact Candice Belcourt at BelcouCM@st-lukes.org. (Hank Greer) //