Inside Out | Determined to hit the slopes
Karin DiNardi, 34,, didn't let cerebral palsy or being in a wheelchair keep her from going on a skiing adventure.
By Art Carey, Inquirer Columnist
A sticker on the side of Karin DiNardi's power wheelchair warns: "Out of my mind. Back in five minutes."
This girl just wants to have fun, and nothing - cerebral palsy, the perceptions and prejudices of others - is going to stop her. She has a sense of humor, and, yes, she sometimes acts crazy - and she's proud of it. She would agree with the sage who said: "Part of being sane is being a little bit crazy."
"Adventure is my middle name," says DiNardi. "When people think I'm not able to do something, it makes me more determined to accomplish it."
DiNardi, 34, works as an Independent Living Specialist at Liberty Resources, an organization that helps people with disabilities make it on their own. In the fall, she entered a drawing for a ski trip sponsored by the Adaptive Sports Association in Colorado. When her name wasn't picked, she was crushed.
That was when co-worker Gretchen Bell stepped in. Bell is a volunteer ski instructor for the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports, which helps disabled people participate in a variety of athletic pursuits. Bell told DiNardi she would take her to Camelback for a ski lesson.
"She knew how much I wanted to try skiing," says DiNardi, who lives in the city's Juniata Park section. "This was a goal and something that I really thought would be fun."
In the weeks before the big day, DiNardi was charged with anticipation. "My family and friends thought I was crazy," she says, "but they know how I am. When I want to do something, I go for it!"
January 30 was a perfect Sunday - sunny and bright, temperature in the upper 20s, a fresh layer of powdery snow. DiNardi couldn't wait to hit the slopes.
The contrivance that made it possible is a bi-ski, which looks like a stripped-down, primitive snowmobile with tiny outriggers. It's the Alpine equivalent of a tricycle.
It took an hour to get DiNardi comfortably situated. Her limbs tend to cramp and spasm, so they had to be carefully cushioned. To support her neck, the headrest from her wheelchair was lashed to the back of the bi-ski with cable ties.
DiNardi was ready.
"My adrenaline was pumping," she says. "I had the biggest smile on my face."
As she began her descent, she was guided from behind by ski instructor Jeff McGinnis, who was tethered to the bi-ski. He surveyed the terrain and helped DiNardi steer by calling out which way to lean in her seat.
"Coming down that slope was awesome," DiNardi says. "My heart raced."
After two trips, McGinnis asked Bell: "Is Karin a risk-taker?"
Bell laughed. Next trip, DiNardi made her own turns without coaching.
By day's end, she'd skied down the mountain five times. On the last run, she hit a bump. "I got some air," she beams.
"She has a need for speed," Bell says.
Later that day, on the laptop-like screen she uses to communicate, DiNardi wrote: "I have found my sport."
For the time being. "Next is skydiving," she says. "I also want to swim with dolphins."
"Inside Out" appears Saturdays Contact staff columnist Art Carey at 215-854-4588 or email@example.com.