By Charlotte Rayfield, Achieve Tahoe Participant

It’s 2006, and I’m eight and a half years old, looking down at what seems to my tiny body to be a giant hill. In retrospect, it wasn’t that big, but at that moment it felt impossibly large. I watched as the ski got closer to the edge, and then we were headed down. In an instant, I changed irrevocably, and for the better.

Picture if you will, a small girl with braids, her nose permanently stuck in a book. That’s me. I am woefully uncoordinated and had never been good at sports before. With one lesson, however, I was hooked. For the first time, I had something I was good at, something to talk about during recess in second grade when everyone at the table took turns talking about their favorite sports, or what they did over the weekend. Not only that, but this was something cool, something that some of my able-bodied friends hadn’t mastered yet.  Achieve Tahoe gave my family and I the ability to spend time together outside, despite my physical limitations, with the utmost attention to life skills and safety. For the first seven years of my life, I’d heard my dad talk about how much he loved skiing, and for the last seventeen years I have had the great pleasure to share that with him. Skiing is now my thing as well as his.

In the last seventeen years, with the aid of a sit ski, Achieve Tahoe has allowed me to do so many amazing things, and make incredible memories with my dad and friends. We’ve skied in Sun Valley, on the Fourth of July in short sleeves and shorts (We even got commemorative t-shirts!), and I’ve been lucky enough to ski with many friends from my hometown, disabled and able bodied alike. I’ve been able to introduce my friends to a sport I love, who also never thought they’d be able to ski. Achieve Tahoe has taught me I am not incapable. I’m now about to graduate college in the fall, and am assured of my capability to enter the world. 

Over the years since I began taking lessons, I’ve learned how to anticipate turns, enact them, and recently, even started to ski independently with the help of the Tetra-ski . My first time in the Tetra ski – which uses amazing technology that allows me to steer using a joystick, like the one on my power chair – was rocky as all beginnings are. I somehow almost ran myself into the flowing river that is just outside the doors of the Achieve Tahoe program center in warmer months! It’s something we now laugh about at home, one of my many anecdotes and silly blunders. The Tetra Ski has taught me more about my skill level, and how different skills are needed to operate a ski versus a power chair. For example, in my wheelchair, simply taking my hand off the joystick allows me to come to an immediate stop, which is not true in the ski. Trust me, I learned the hard way. With the tetra ski, it isn’t just about making turns to reach the bottom, it’s about making the correct turns at the right moment, not only to get to the bottom, but to do so while being mindful of the other skiers on the run. At the age of 25, my lessons now are more about anticipating turns and even avoiding other skiers. I went from someone who assisted in the turns, to a skier who is active in initiating turns, and even anticipating them. As I’ve grown, my goals have changed, and I’m on my way to skiing more and more independently. 

As for my dad, he became interested in volunteering with Achieve Tahoe after that first lesson, which allowed him to share something that he loved with his kid. Seventeen years later he is an instructor for the bi-ski, (my first rig) and a member of the Achieve Tahoe Board of Directors. Off the snow, my family has become enmeshed with the lives of the employees and friends, allowing me to build friendships and networks of support that are there to support me both on the snow and off. Dave Littman, who was one of my first instructors, has become a great friend. We explore museums in Reno together, the first Thursday of the month. We attend fundraisers with these friends, and I’ve celebrated everything from losing a tooth to college acceptances within the walls of the Achieve Tahoe building. Skiing has shown me the importance of getting up when you fall and trying again until you succeed, but also that the people you meet are just as important as the things you accomplish. Accomplishing things is always better with good people by your side. I would not be as confident and successful had it not been for the lessons and values Achieve Tahoe has instilled in me. 

Thank you Charlotte for sharing your story with the Achieve Tahoe community – we look forward to skiing with you again soon!

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