By Tanya Sheckley, Achieve Tahoe Parent
We found Achieve Tahoe when Eliza was four years old. Having a child with disabilities made so many things in life more challenging. I’ve always loved skiing and I was so grateful Achieve Tahoe made it possible for me to share that love with my family. From arrival on the hill to getting on the first chair to skiing down the mountain, our instructor Dave was incredible with Eliza. He shared what was happening so she understood, eased her fears, and made it fun.
That first day we skied it was pouring rain, cold, and windy. Eliza hated – and I mean hated – the chair lift. BUT, from the moment she got off and felt the glide of the snow beneath her ski, she was hooked. She squealed with delight and excitement. We mounted a camera to her helmet, and we could hear her laughter in the videos we took of the ‘Eliza eye view.’ We spent several days skiing that season.
I think what was especially fun, aside from the mid mountain stops for hot chocolate (which was always more whipped cream than hot chocolate) was that in this activity, in this sport, Eliza felt like a big sister for the first time. In her bi-ski, Eliza could ski the whole mountain. She could ride the big chairs and go down the steep slopes while her younger sister was still on the magic carpet, learning to ski in ski school. It was the one time in life when she had the opportunity to be the true big sister and experience things her little sister couldn’t do yet. For a child who had limited abilities, the ability to be first was thrilling.
Eliza tragically passed away six years ago this past March. She was six years old. On hearing the news, the Achieve Tahoe family quickly invited our family to ski with them in the annual Ability Challenge. Skiing that day connected us to each other, to the mountain, to the organization, and to the spirit of Eliza, who would have loved the scavenger hunt and costumes.
Our family has taken the lessons of inclusion, perseverance, and the love that we found at Achieve Tahoe and incorporated them into UP Academy, the school that we founded in Eliza’s legacy. Essentially, skiing is project-based learning on the snow. It offers the opportunity to see, do, feel, experience, and learn in a space and place that ignites memory so we deeply feel and understand. UP Academy aims to offer that same learning experience in the classroom, to students of all abilities. It now serves students of many different learning profiles through small mixed age classes and multi-sensory project-based learning.
I am so grateful for the time that Eliza was able to spend on the snow, feeling free, feeling big, feeling fast, feeling all the things that her physical disabilities prevented her from feeling on a daily basis. I am grateful for the modeling of inclusion, acceptance, and working with challenges to achieve a goal. I am grateful for the love of this family when Eliza was alive and more poignantly after she passed.
Thank you Achieve Tahoe for all you do.
To learn more about Tanya’s work at UP Academy, visit www.upacademysf.com