In December of 2021, GMAS was awarded a grant from the WAWOS (We’re All Working on Something) Foundation. It is unusual for a small non-profit like ours to receive an unsolicited grant from a multi-national foundation such as WAWOS, and we truly took it to heart.
After discussing with our Board, we awarded adaptive ski scholarships to two of our longest participating athletes in the program, Jack Clark and Patrick Lewis – two bright, funny, spirited young men who were born with cerebral palsy.
Little did we realize how much of an impact Jack and Patrick were going to have on their new ski instructor Matty Marks, and how those connections would blossom and overcome common barriers often present in such relationships.
Matty Marks moved to Stowe from New Jersey in the fall of 2021 and brought his passions to our community. A talented tele skier and professional hair stylist who specializes in cutting hair for children who have an aversion to hair cutting, clients on the autism spectrum, and the ability to improvise for people with other disabilities, he was a natural for the Adaptive Ski and Ride program at Stowe Mountain Resort.
In this blog, Matty recounts the impact that two GMAS’s athletes born with cerebral palsy had on him. If you ski at Stowe, you may have seen him dancing his way down the hill. We know you will enjoy this as much as we did!
The love of making turns down a snowy mountain is something that is deeply rooted in my soul. And I believe that that love is a gift to be shared. It’s almost impossible to overstate how important this idea is to me. So, what I am writing here is my attempt to try to let people know why I feel this way, through the lens with which I am seeing how and why adaptive skiing truly matters to me, the skiers, and the world.
I didn’t know anything about adaptive skiing until I moved to Stowe and began to work at the mountain as a ski instructor for the 3-6 year old crowd. I moved from New Jersey, where I had been a barber for a number of years, and I wanted to resume cutting hair here for supplemental income and self-satisfaction. As fate would have it, some of my earliest clients were the three members of the Lewis family: Maryanne, George, and their son, Patrick, who has cerebral palsy, which renders him immobile and non-verbal. During the course of our time together, I learned about Green Mountain Adaptive Sports, and immediately knew that I was going to be a part of adaptive skiing. When I met Frederick Gaudette, Stowe’s new adaptive supervisor at ski school, I was certain that I had found a calling as a skier and a home where I could practice that calling at Stowe.
I ended up assisting Tom Hall as he guided Patrick in the bi-ski five times this past winter, and to say that it was fulfilling is an understatement. Patrick would demonstrate his satisfaction with the experience by singing on the chair-lift. It was such a welcome sound, providing us with a signifier that we were doing a good job. And what I mean by doing a good job is that we successfully helped Patrick to have fun and feel safe going down a mountain, the activity I value most in my own life.
Until my last assignment as an adaptive instructor, I had only worked with Patrick. To be altogether honest, I think that Patrick was the only person I had ever known personally with cerebral palsy. Communication being as difficult as it is with Patrick, I lacked a frame of reference for what other sufferers of CP might be experiencing and how I should behave around them. It feels silly to say now. Because now I know Jack. Because now Jack is my friend.
For my last lesson of the season, as I had in all of my previous lessons, I was Tom’s assistant for helping get the bi-ski on and off the chairlift. My other duty was to follow Tom and play defense against some of the dangerous, out-of-control skiers we all are familiar with. This time, instead of Patrick, who I was expecting, I met a 23-year-old young man named Jack Clark, who has had a profound effect on me in ways that he won’t be aware of until he reads this.
Personally, this has been the most important ski season of my life. It was my second as a telemark skier and my first living in Vermont. Through meeting the right people at the right times, and having luck, creativity, and passion, I developed a unique dancing style of telemark skiing that has become definitive of who I am. That’s because I am able to express myself on skis exactly how I want to. I can communicate who I am with my body, and my gratitude for that ability is limitless. I love seeing that characteristic in anyone going down the mountain, and in one way or another it usually manifests as happiness. But Jack showed me something I had never seen before. Something unique. He made skiing into physical comedy. I had learned on the chairlift that he was a funny dude even though sometimes we had to power through some of his difficulties talking. But once we did, it was clear that I was hanging out with a hilarious individual whose attitude about his situation was about as positive as could be. The way he turned skiing comedic was by guiding the bi-ski juuuuussssst a little too close to one of the chairlift poles. He was testing Tom, seeing how much he would be allowed to take control of the bi-ski by shifting his weight to the left outrigger. Tom, having built trust with Jack for years, allowed him the slack to show an adeptness at guiding the bi-ski that one might not think possible. I certainly didn’t know he could do anything like that. And when he did it, whether true or not, it felt like he did it to make me laugh.
I’ve seen Jack Clark using skiing to express himself in a way that was entirely unique, despite the limitations of cerebral palsy. I think I relate to and feel inspired by that moment more than any other I have witnessed this season. I have met a few other guys who do similar “tricks” to me on telemark skis like going backwards and doing “twirlybirds.” But even though it was cool to meet some tele-brothers of mine doing what I do, it was Jack who really embodied what I’m trying to do out there. I’m just trying to have the most fun I can by being me while doing the best I can with what I’ve got. To me, that’s what great skiing is. And by that metric, Jack Clark is the greatest skier I have ever seen. That’s right. I’m friends with the best skier I’ve ever seen. And that makes me feel pretty cool.
To read more about WAWOS: https://wawos.org/
To follow Matty on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/newdoggoldtrixx/
To support GMAS with a donation, to volunteer or join our Board or committees: https://greenmtnadaptive.org/participate/