World Cup a boon for Challenge Aspen | AspenTimes.com

World Cup a boon for Challenge Aspen

Charles Agar

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN When Houston-born Casey Owens was injured in Iraq in 2004, he’d never skied in his life. But his recovery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center led him to ski racing. Now he’s gunning for a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team thanks to the support of Challenge Aspen.Owens is one of many newly injured vets who have come to Aspen to learn to ski race under the guidance of Kevin Jardine, former U.S. Paralympic Ski Team coach and new director of Challenge Aspen’s competitive training program.”We feel the U.S. disabled ski team needs a feeder program, and we want to lead that charge,” said Houston Cowan, co-founder and CEO of Challenge Aspen.Jardine joining the team is a vital part of that effort.”We now have disabled athletes who want to move here just to work with him,” Cowan said.

Challenge Aspen got a boost this week when more than 100 athletes and coaches from 15 countries came to Aspen for the town’s first sanctioned World Cup International Paralympic Committee (IPC) race. “The deal was struck to bring the races in September,” said Douglas Craver, who is in charge of marketing and the development of programs for Challenge Aspen. “And the organization has been running at full-tilt since then.”Challenge Aspen is the title sponsor of five-day event.”There’s been a tremendous response from the community, with more than 300 volunteers who gave their time,” Craver said. And the Aspen Skiing Co. has “been pivotal to Challenge Aspen’s success,” Craver said.”Our objective with the success of this event is to become the home base for the IPC world cup in the United States,” Cowan said.Though he can’t say the word “epic” in Japanese, Cowan is pretty sure he’s heard it at the race course during this week’s international event.Taiki Morii, a member of the Japanese Disabled Ski Team, said his time in Aspen has been great. The town is so picturesque and he’s enjoyed freeskiing on Aspen Mountain, evenings spent in more affordable digs in Basalt and being part of the race.”But the course is very difficult. Very fast,” Morii said.”One of the main things would be that it shows not only Aspen but the entire community what a disabled athlete can do,” Cowan said. Just a glimpse of disabled skiers hurtling down Ruthie’s Run is enough to convince anyone, he added. “It really boils down to the fact that they’re not really disabled.”

It is just this kind of community spirit Cowan envisioned when he was a real estate developer in Chicago in 1991 and had a change of life.

Cowan came to a realization when he contacted a blind skier in Aspen after reading an article.”How in the world do you ski blind?” Cowan asked. After a three hour conversation, Cowan made a decision. He closed up shop and told his staff the next day he was moving to Aspen to teach blind people to ski.

When he arrived in Aspen, Cowan met Amanda Boxtel and helped teach her to ski again after an accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. The two started Challenge Aspen together in 1995.Challenge Aspen instructors gave 400 lessons in 1996, and this season they already have instructed 6,000 from their base in Snowmass Village. They now have programs in five countries.When Cowan met Jardine last year, he saw an opportunity. Jardine’s wife was eight months pregnant and the then 10-year veteran U.S. Disabled Ski Team coach was tired of the road. When Cowan offered him a job, Jardine accepted.”With his experience and contacts, I give him a lot of the credit for bringing the first ever disabled World Cup ever held on Aspen,” Cowan said.One of the goals of the competition program is to provide newly-injured Iraq veterans of Iraq a chance to enter the starting gate at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver.

Today is the final day of World Cup racing in Aspen, but Challenge Aspen sponsors a Winter sports clinic at the end of March that attracts over 1,500 athletes to Snowmass.”We hope to always host the World Cup,” Cowan said, and he has his sights set on luring the 2009 World Championships to Aspen.Challenge Aspen survives on contributions, grants and proceeds from special events like the John Denver Tribute each fall, Cowan said.For more information, see http://www.challengeaspen.com. or call 923-0578.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.

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