NEWRY – Gould Academy in the White Mountains has inspired young skiers since it was formed in 1836. Its ski instructor program, started a quarter of a century ago, is new by comparison. But it has taught thousands of elementary school children in surrounding communities to ski.
Enthusiastic, energetic student instructors at the academy have given lessons in the Rugrats program to many children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to try skiing.
And this year for the second winter, the Rugrats have helped athletes with disabilities at the Maine Adaptive Sport program, formerly Maine Handicapped Skiing.
Of the 230 full-time students at Gould this year, 40 help the Rugrats program, teaching 230 elementary school students.
It’s a situation where they get more than they give.
“Because we ski every day, we don’t appreciate what we have. We don’t realize how lucky we are to get to ski. But each week when we teach the students, we see their excitement,” said Gould senior Mirina Sato of Tokyo. “That makes me realize some kids don’t get to ski. This is the only way many of them can ski.”
Last year the folks at Maine Adaptive Sport looked at the high-energy high school skiers leading parades of youth around the mountain and considered the possibilities. Since they’re on the mountain every day anyway, why not recruit them to help instruct athletes with disabilities?
The Gould students were intrigued. Last year, five signed up. This year, nine are helping Maine Adaptive, including three who returned.
“It’s awesome. The work is physically demanding. These young students are fit and better skiers. And having the high schoolers lends an air of credibility. They’re a breath of fresh air, a burst of energy,” said Maine Adaptive Sport outreach director Eric Topper.
Liam Gillis of Boston tried helping in the more challenging program last year, and as a sophomore became a champion for the cause.
He started a Facebook page to invite other Gould students to the new program, and now plans to get certified as an adaptive instructor through the Professional Ski Instructors Association.
“It’s fun coming up here every day, and the people show you how much you help them. I love spreading the word to the whole Gould community,” Gillis said.
Margaret Adams of Anchorage, Alaska, is another who tried adaptive ski coaching last year. She plans to do her senior project this spring on the same program offered in Alaska. She believes the adaptive culture at Gould will grow.
“I think this is intimidating to some kids. It requires a little more responsibility and some kids are nervous about that. But at Maine Adaptive, they’re all really happy we’re here,” Adams said.
It’s an extension of a program that has spread winter smiles for decades.
For 25 years, the Rugrats program has taught third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at no charge, while Sunday River also has provided rental equipment and ski passes for free. Three years ago Sunday River expanded its role, offering free lessons and rentals to area school kids from kindergarten through second grade.
“A lot of these kids, this is the only time they get to ski. Some of them have never ever been here before and they live right at the doorstep of the mountain,” said Sunday River ski instructor Meredith Harrop of Newport, R.I.
Gould senior Elina Rowe knows how much the Rugrats program means to local kids. She’s from Tampa, Fla., and only learned to ski when she came to Gould.
“The kids always, always want to ski. It makes me more excited to ski, even in the cold days. If the kids are happy, then you’re happy,” Rowe said as she rode the chair lift with two fifth graders.
Carol Rodriguez also is new to skiing, having grown up in Madrid. In her second year skiing, she wanted to give back the same way Rowe did.
“I like seeing the kids with that smile on their faces while they learn something new. They love it, you can tell,” Rodriguez said.
The take-home message to the Gould students? They are lucky mountain people.
“The majority of these kids would not be able to ski. This is their only chance,” said Gould senior Nick Schwarz.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: