Surprisingly, Josh first heard about Achieve Tahoe in Colorado. He and his dad, who has a C-5 spinal cord injury, were at the disabled veteran’s clinic in Aspen. Their instructor, on learning they lived in the Bay Area, suggested they keep participating in adaptive skiing with Achieve Tahoe. When Josh got home to California, he looked up Achieve Tahoe and decided to volunteer. “The veterans’ clinic was a really special trip for me and my dad, and I wanted to help create that experience for other families,” Josh said. “I also wanted to learn to ski with my dad again, and I thought that learning to tether a sit-ski would be a good challenge.”
During Josh’s first season as a snow sports instructor, he was the assist on a lesson that hit close to home: a new participant with a recent C-5 spinal cord injury. As his dad has the same injury, Josh knew he had the experience to make sure his participant and their family felt comfortable and safe with Achieve Tahoe. “[My participant’s parents] were understandably nervous seeing their son put in the hands of two complete strangers,” Josh said, “so I started asking how the injury had affected his strength in specific areas… and remarked to [his family] how similar his injury was to my dad’s. It seemed like they took a deep breath. I think they saw I knew what questions to ask and how to support their son during his lesson.” As Josh saw his participant and their family start to gain confidence, Josh began to see just how much of an impact he made as a volunteer.
As winter came to a close, Josh realized he did not want to wait six months before he volunteered with Achieve Tahoe again. Though he had never waterskied before, Josh signed up as a summer volunteer. At Josh’s first training, he learned everything he needed to safely teach a waterski lesson. Over two full days on our waterski lake at Wake Island in Sacramento, Josh learned how to help both seated and standing participants get up on skis, how to jump off a moving jet ski to help participants reset if they fell, and how to waterski.
A month later, Josh was in the water, teaching his first lesson. His participant was a new stand-up skier, and at first Josh was worried that he would not have the expertise to teach him effectively. However, as he coached his participant to stand for progressively longer and longer stretches of time, Josh realized that his training had taught him to adjust his instructions so his skier could find success. Moreover, every time his participant fell and started uncontrollably laughing, Josh realized that what he really loves about Achieve Tahoe is how it gives everyone from staff to volunteers to participants the chance to get outside and have fun.
Over the past three years, Josh has continued to volunteer with our snow sports and waterski programs, as well as developing our online participant progress tracking system. Josh especially likes teaching waterskiing because the team-based teaching style allows him to bond with both the participants and their families. “I love connecting with participants’ families during waterski days,” Josh said. “We get to know each other on the dock, in the water, and sometimes on the boat. One participant’s wife gave me some great tips on accessible travel which my dad used the next time he flew. I’ve seen people cry tears of joy while sitting next to me in the boat as we watched their spouse or child ski, and I’ve seen the skiers themselves cry. It was my own family’s experience that got me involved in adaptive sports, and being part of other families’ moments is what keeps me coming back.”