Monday, May 20, 2024

National Sports Center for the Disabled has new second home in the Front Range

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For more than 50 years, the National Sports Center for the Disabled has been a world leader in adaptive snow sports at Winter Park, helping people with disabilities become active outdoors, offering competitive programs and producing paralympic athletes. Now it’s poised to expand its programs in the Front Range with a spacious new facility at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

The NSCD Adaptive Program Center opened Wednesday with a field day for 100 special needs students from Aurora Public Schools. They rode hand cycles, adaptive mountain bikes with e-power assist and fat tire bikes. They tackled an obstacle course and tried archery.

The new facility also offers a base from which NSCD can run trips to off-site locations such as Bear Creek Lake Park for paddling activities and Clear Creek for whitewater sports, both of which are just a few miles away. NSCD also runs rock climbing programs a mile up Clear Creek Canyon.

Jordan Atwell, Competition Center staff with NSCD, right, runs alongside Christian Marquez Coronado, 18, as he learns how to ride an adaptive bike during an adaptive Field Day at the new National Sports Center for the Disabled Adaptive Program Center at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, Colorado on May 1, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

“It’s a learning center, it’s a social center, it’s an exposure center to expose them to different activities,” said NSCD chief executive Julie Taulman. “It’s a step in the right direction for us, and for people with disabilities, to have a place where they can try out all these different activities instead of driving all the way to Winter Park.”

NSCD was founded in 1970 after the Winter Park Ski School needed an instructor to teach some amputees from Children’s Hospital in Denver how to ski. Hal O’Leary, who died in 2021, volunteered and would help revolutionize adaptive snow sports through NSCD. Nine NSCD athletes competed in the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, including Taulman’s son, Kyle, an alpine skier.

NSCD has been offering some programming in the Front Range for 12 years, but it had limited storage space for its equipment at Empower Field and had no space of its own to put on events. While in discussions with officials of Jefferson County Open Space to help make the county’s trails more accessible for adaptive cycles, NSCD discovered the county had unused space at the fairgrounds. Officials at the fairgrounds, which dates back to 1954, also had been looking for ways to host more events. It was serendipity.

“We’re more than doubling our offerings in events this year, and we have this amazing partnership with NSCD,” said Matt Robbins, community connections director with Jeffco parks and conservation. “We want to get people outdoors, they want to get people outdoors, this is a population that is under-represented, and we believe open space is for all.”

The 100-acre facility gives NSCD lots of space to run programs and access to miles of trails. The goal is to host students from kindergarten through high school, as well as people with disabilities from Craig Hospital, Children’s Hospital and veterans organizations. It’s in a pleasant setting at the foot of Green Mountain with views of the foothills and South Table Mountain. There are picnic tables and a small playground.

“It just opens up a whole bunch of new opportunities,” Taulman said. “And, while the kids are here, they’re outside looking at the mountains and looking at greenery, which is really what we’re about. We’re not about concrete. Hopefully it will become a place for people with disabilities to feel like a home away from home during the summer.”

Aurora high school student Kalab Mekonnen, center, gets started on the NSCD Moves! Obstacle course that was part of the adaptive Field Day at the new National Sports Center for the Disabled Adaptive Program Center at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, Colorado on May 1, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Aurora high school student Kalab Mekonnen, center, gets started on the NSCD Moves! Obstacle course that was part of the adaptive Field Day at the new National Sports Center for the Disabled Adaptive Program Center at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden, Colorado on May 1, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

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