Jennifer and SSD Cooper
In the summer of 2019 I did something that just a few short years ago, I was sure I would never do again: move to a mountain and hike to the peak. I grew up hiking in the mountains of Central PA and have always enjoyed the outdoors growing up.
I was born with spondylolithesis and scoliosis. I’ve had 5 spinal fusions beginning in my 20’s, up to my last surgery at age 40. I am totally fused from T3-S1 and C6-7 with very limited mobility in my spine and neck. I suffer from bilateral SI joint dysfunction and many other chronic pain issues.
Being a chronic pain patient can be very challenging. But that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying my life outside. My husband and I moved to Stowe last year during the pandemic and we absolutely love it here!
Due to all my spinal surgeries and having balance issues, getting outside and hiking wasn’t something I was able to do anymore…until I was matched with Cooper, my service dog. Cooper has been with me for 4 years and has allowed me to once again enjoy the outdoors. Because of Cooper’s assistance, I was able to hike to the top of Bolton in 2019 to the top of the summit at the vista chair. Now we hike Toll House at Stowe to the top of the lift shack. Hopefully one day we’ll make it to the top of Toll Road.
My love of winter and snow runs deep. I’ve always loved snow since I was little and enjoyed sledding, ice skating and helping my dad shovel sidewalks. I never dreamed in a million years I would learn how to ski. With my balance issues and not having a lot of stability, I felt it was only something on my bucket list that I would never accomplish.
My husband is a huge skier and has skied for 40+ years. I would always go along with him on his ski trips and just hang out in the lodge and watch other skiers. It was almost depressing to me watching everyone ski and wishing that could be me!
When we started coming to Vermont on vacation several years ago we were at Killington and I saw a blind skier and a skier in a sit ski. I was blown away and my first thought was, “Wow, how are they doing that?!” And then I realized if they could do it, so could I!
My willingness and determination to learn how to ski started with watching hundreds of YouTube videos of all different kinds of skiers and mimicking their movements on skis as I stood in my living room.
Then I wanted to see if I could stand in ski boots and balance myself. Low and behold, I could stand with more balance in ski boots than I could in my regular shoes. I then realized, “yep, I’m going to do this!” My husband wanted me to get used to having long boards on my feet so we went out in the yard and I stood there with ski boots on and skis, holding ski poles.
That moment was one of the happiest moments in my life as I knew right then and there, no matter what, I was going to learn how to ski. I originally learned how to cross country ski when we lived in Southern Vermont and was able to ski with Cooper! Skiing is obviously not something Cooper was taught in his training, but he took on the task with ease and he skied with me like he was born to do it!
I want to be an inspiration to other adaptive athletes or anyone for that matter that feels like they could never ski or get outside and enjoy life due to their disability. I am living proof that if you set your mind to something, you can do anything!
This past summer Cooper helped me walk down the aisle to get married to my long-time boyfriend. My father passed away over 10 years ago due to complications from Alzheimer’s so not having my dad walk me down the aisle was hard, but having Cooper there by my side was one of the greatest moments in my life.
Last winter I was awarded a scholarship to ski with Green Mountain Adaptive Sports! What a wonderful experience it was to be able to ride the lift and ski down Toll Road! Due to my fused spine, I need assistance getting on and off the chairlift but once I’m up and coming down the mountain, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world! I feel free and don’t feel like a person with a disability.
I wear a bright orange vest that says “visually impaired” since I can’t turn to see if another skier is coming down the slopes. I only wish I could have learned how to ski many years ago, but my determination to learn has been such a rewarding experience. I feel if I can learn how to ski, anyBODY can!
My husband is getting me a recumbent mountain bike so hopefully, I can join other adaptive athletes this coming fall. I’m learning to overcome my fear of trying different activities thanks to Green Mountain Adaptive Sports. I’m even hoping to try their adaptive kayak program and regain my love of water again.
I want to be an inspiration to other Adaptive athletes or anyone for that matter that feels like they could never ski or get outside and enjoy life due to their disability. I am living proof that if you set your mind to something, you can do anything!
Fun facts about me: I absolutely LOVE snow and honestly can’t get enough of it! The more snow, the better I feel! I enjoy reading many books, mainly about dogs. I love watching Christmas Movies on the Hallmark channel and I’m Citizen Cider’s #1 fan!
“Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear” George Addair.