PERU — “I think sports heals a lot of things,” said Bart J. Ruggiere Adaptive Sports Center executive director Joe Hurley.
The sports center based on Bromley Mountain focuses on providing people with cognitive and physical disabilities the opportunity to participate in sports.
Individuals who never thought it would be possible to play sports are given the opportunity to do so through Bart Adaptive Sports Center.
“What it does is increase the opportunity for them to be able to do things that they never thought they could do,” Hurley said.
Those sports include snowboarding and skiing during the winter. Last year, the program was able to offer more than 500 adaptive ski and snowboarding lessons to those with disabilities.
The participants vary in severity of disability.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be somebody wheelchair bound — it can be somebody that just has some mobility issues that can’t balance well,” Hurley said.
The nonprofit offers specialized equipment depending on the need of the participant. For example, a wheelchair bound individual wanting to ski would use a bucket style seat with two skis underneath it called bi-skiis. Turning while bi-skiing is done by moving your head and shoulders or by using handheld devices called “outriggers” that assist with balance, speed and help control the speed of the skier.
Traditional stand up skiing is also offered at the Bart Adaptive Sports Center. Outriggers also play a large role in helping these participants maintain their balance while heading down the mountain.
In the summer, the sports center offers adaptations to cycling, kayaking and golf.
“We have quite an array of adaptive cycles that we use. Everything for somebody who has balance issues, mobility issues, to somebody that has never ridden a bike in their life,” Hurley said.
In a recent post on its Facebook page, the sports center announced a group of anonymous donors have pledged to match donations up to $30,000 made by Jan. 10 to the Bart Adaptive Sports Center. Donations can be made at https://www.bartadaptive.org.
Hurley said the donations are a crucial part of extending Bart’s programming. Along with Bromley Mountain, Bart Adaptive Sports Center also offers programming at Stratton Mountain.
The donations also go toward upgrading the specialty equipment that is so crucial to providing those with disabilities the opportunity to participate in these sports.
Hurley said a piece of “sit-down equipment” can cost anywhere from $3,000-$10,000, while an adaptive golf cart for somebody with a physical disability can cost upwards of $15,000.
“It does get pretty expensive after a while,” Hurley said.
Hurley has been with the Bart Adaptive Sports Center since its creation in 2002. His passion toward creating more opportunities for people with disabilities is a personal one.
“My daughter’s physically disabled and I made a promise to her that whatever she wanted to be able to do she could do,” Hurley said. “By making that promise, it got me involved working with people with disabilities.”
Betsy Hurley, Joe’s daughter, serves as administrative assistant at Bart. Betsy grew up in Bennington and has competed in many sports including Alpine Skiing in World Games in 2000 in Anchorage, Alaska winning a bronze medal for the USA. She was inducted into the New England Wheelchair Hall of Fame in 2007, according to Bart’s website.
Joe Hurley has also spent a lot of time working with those who have served in the military.
“I worked with a lot of veterans,” Hurley said. “When they came back from (Operation) Desert Storm, some guys that came back from Vietnam, I worked with those guys and getting them back out again and into society, doing sports.”
Bart J. Ruggiere was a passionate skier, who spent a lot of time on Bromley Mountain with friends and family. Ruggiere was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 during the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. His family and friends formed a foundation in Bart’s name to help support people with special needs through an adaptive sports program at Bromley Mountain.
Joe Hurley said Bart allows those who are not given many opportunities to exercise a chance to get outside and be active.
“When we do take them out, we don’t just take them out to ski or snowboard — We take them out to teach them to be able to enjoy the sport and for it to be a lifelong sport for them,” Hurley said.
At the end of the day, Hurley is glad to be able to level the playing field.
“For somebody with a cognitive disability to be able to end up putting on a pair of skis and going out and skiing with their mom and dad and ski as a family … it’s a huge thing,” Hurley said.