Off in the distance, Ravi Drugan expertly carves at high speeds down the steep summit of Mt. Bachelor. He throws a huge spray of snow as he stylishly brings his sit-ski to a stop. You can’t miss him when he’s training at Mt. Bachelor, but it might not be the sit-ski that first catches your attention. More likely it’ll be his mastery of skiing.
Drugan, 31, is a professional mono-skier from Eugene who started skiing in 2009 with Oregon Adaptive Sports after losing both legs in a train accident on the eve of his 15th birthday. Three years after that traumatic accident, he was awarded a scholarship for a half-day lesson and an equipment demo with OAS at Hoodoo Ski Area. His one run on the bunny slopes led onto the blue-level slopes and continued into the late afternoon with him skiing alongside his dad, from the top of Hoodoo through whiteout conditions to the bottom. Drugan hasn’t slowed down since. As he puts it, “I’ve always loved sports and being competitive.”
Drugan, also known for his long shock of wavy blonde hair, channeled his athletic skills into competing in his first alpine race at Winter Park, Colorado, the very next winter. And from there he was hooked on competing. He won a bronze medal in Mono Skier X at the 2015 Winter X Games and has been competing in races worldwide to earn a coveted place on the U.S. Paralympic Team.
He’s currently ranked second in the world in para-alpine skiing, with top rankings in men’s slalom sitting, men’s super-G sitting and men’s downhill sitting, as well as a seventh-place ranking in men’s giant slalom sitting. As a member of the U.S. Paralympic A Team going into the 2020-2021 winter season, he plans to keep racing at his top level to earn a spot to compete in the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics. And he gives no reason to doubt that he’ll achieve this goal.
A Growing Community
The Americans With Disabilities Act celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2020. The landmark legislation was enacted to prevent discrimination based on disability, enabling a generation of Americans with disabilities to thrive. Oregon Adaptive Sports, based in Bend, was founded not long after with the intention to create opportunities and experiences for individuals with disabilities to participate in outdoor recreation and, in the process, gain independence and confidence.
While Bend is roundly celebrated as a recreational hot spot, thanks to OAS, it’s become a major destination for athletes with disabilities. As a result, Bend has cultivated a growing community of adaptive skiers, mountain bikers, hikers, paddlers and climbers. The organization initially launched with winter ski programs and, in the 23 years since, has added year-round recreation. OAS now serves over 450 participants with disabilities through more than 1,500 experiences each year, while fostering a sense of community that continues to fuel the growth of accessible outdoor recreation in Central Oregon and beyond.
Breaking Down Barriers
Drugan and athletes like him who have benefited from OAS are a success story. But there are still many challenges for athletes with disabilities to overcome. Says executive director Pat Addabbo: “A lot of what OAS does isn’t as much about helping individuals overcome their disability; rather, it’s about helping them overcome the barriers that society puts in their way that make experiencing things like skiing, or even a lot of everyday life activities, more challenging.”
For instance, he explains, the only thing preventing a paralyzed skier from learning to ski at a ski resort is access to an adaptive program and adaptive equipment. Similarly, for a visually impaired or blind person, it’s not necessarily their disability that’s preventing them from going on a hike, it’s potentially the lack of an accessible trail that can be oriented and navigated successfully with a dog or a cane, and the availability of somebody to support them on that hike. In other words, it’s not the disability that’s preventing people from being outside, riding bikes, skiing or participating in a sport. It’s often manmade hurdles.
Including All Voices
So what’s the answer to improving Oregon’s accessibility for all? According to OAS, it’s to include people with disabilities in decision-making processes, to represent them in inclusive marketing that acknowledges disabled participants and to find solutions to the prohibitive cost of adaptive equipment.
Including more disabled voices in the planning and design process of new facilities would prevent physical barriers from being erected in the first place, Addabbo says. Planners would take into account adaptive needs every step of the way, from parking to bathrooms to rideable trails. “This universal-design mindset benefits everyone,” he says, “from the elderly to families with kids in strollers to the 20% of the population of the U.S. who experience a disability, whether permanently or temporary, at some point in their lives.”
Seeing athletes with disabilities represented in the national and international mainstream, through recognized brands and other marketing would go a long way toward reframing the picture. Seeing all sorts of participants at play makes outdoor activities more within reach.
Equipment at the Ready
Another challenge is the lack of available and affordable adaptive-sports equipment. Eugene’s Hilyard Community Center is one rec center in Oregon that offers adaptive equipment and lessons. You can also find adaptive equipment at the rec centers in Redmond, Portland, Corvallis and many other Oregon cities, as well as free beach wheelchairs for rent in Cannon Beach, Seaside and other Coast towns. Find more accessible adventures for all in Oregon.
As far as manufacturers, currently, only small independent brands are making adaptive equipment, which results in it being costly. There’s an opportunity for major brands to get on board to mass produce equipment and bring down the costs.
OAS has tackled this cost barrier aggressively in 2020, introducing a Gear Up & Go equipment-loan program in Bend this past summer that gives Central Oregon athletes access to the trove of OAS adaptive equipment for outdoor recreation. In mid-September 2020, the organization introduced a new Spread the Stoke grant program, open to Oregon adaptive athletes in the amounts of $500 and $2,500. Athletes may use the grants to purchase sports-related items including equipment, lift passes, lesson fees and the like to gain access to the outdoors and independence. The biannual program includes both fall and spring grant opportunities.
Bend native Gabe Rousseau is one of the first recipients of this Spread the Stoke grant, which came in the form of a Mt. Bachelor winter-season pass. Gabe was born with a degenerative disease, began skiing in a sit-ski with OAS when he was a kid more than a decade ago, and now continues to ski at Mt. Bachelor 40-plus days a year with his family. He says this grant will allow him to “get outside and do something that brings me a whole lot of joy.”
Going into the winter months, OAS sports programs including skiing, snowboarding, Nordic and snowshoe lessons and guiding will run from December 2020 through March 2021. Adaptive ski and snowboard lessons are available by reservation seven days a week at Mt. Bachelor and three days a week at Hoodoo. OAS plans to stagger lesson start times as a COVID precaution and continue to offer the Gear Up & Go expanded equipment-loan program through the winter.