By Troy Hawks
If you were a young boy growing up with cerebral palsy, and all you really wanted to do was play sports and keep up with the other kids in school, but you couldnt, youd probably have some down moments. You might get discouraged if you werent as strong as the others, or couldnt run as fast, or jump as high. There would probably be days that you felt somewhat alone in your circumstance.
Put that same young boy on a bus with a few dozen other children all with similar challenges and heading for a day of skiing and snowboarding and you might find that by the time he gets home he has a totally new perspective on life. It was just such a bus ride that ignited 15 year old Zach Millers passion for snowboarding.
The bus Zach was on was part of the Hospital Sports Program (HSP) at Children’s Hospital Colorado, based in Denver. Launched in 1968, the program was one of the first of its kind in the United States and was designed as a way to get people with amputations involved in skiing. HSP has since expanded to provide recreational resources and programs for children, teens and young adults with physical disabilities. Organizers say the program is designed to help kids with physical disabilities find confidence and freedom through sports and outdoor recreation that they can benefit from for a lifetime. The HSP program works in concert with the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), based in Winter Park, Colorado. The NSCD is one of the premier training programs in the World for disabled, or adaptive, athletes.
When I recently met up with Zach, he had already accomplished much. He had just been named as the first snowboard team member for the Disabled Sports USA E-team. The e stands for emerging, and the selection means that Zach gets to meet and train with professional riders from around the world, many of whom competed in the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi. Mike Shea, a 2014 Paralympic Silver Medalist, is one of his coaches and mentors. Zach recalled what first spurred his interest in snowboarding.
When I was eight, we were at Winter Park, and I saw a bunch of snowboarders going through a terrain park and doing these crazy big jumps and I looked back at my teacher and I was like, I want to do that! he says.
Zach weighs in at about 90 pounds sopping wet, so his snowboarding discipline of choice boardercross tends to raise ones eyebrows. Most entry-level adaptive snowboard cross races are a slightly modified version of the sport with only one racer on the course at a time, and winners determined by a time trial of the fastest to cross the finish line. In more advanced competitions, racers compete head-to-head four at a time. At this point in his racing career, Zach goes head to head with adults more than twice his size but he shows no fear.
I think I thrive on the competitive aspect, he says. Im not afraid of the gates, older adults, or even the fact that Im not on the latest equipment.
Zach has won the Wells Fargo Cup the past three seasons (2012-2014). The Wells Fargo Cup is an international invitational competition that raises proceeds to support the NSCD. In 2013, Zach also won the adaptive snowboard cross race at the USASA Nationals held at Copper Mountain, and he has logged several other first place finishes at events around the country since his first race just three years ago. 2012. That year Zach was also selected as the Childrens Hospital Miracle Network Champion. Champions for facing their illness or injury with determination. Champions from around the country got to travel to Washington D.C. to meet President Obama.
Zach has come a long way, in a short amount of time. When you meet him, he is so well spoken that you have to remind yourself of his age. He already has his sights on passing on his passion to others.
I had a great teacher, her name is Nicole, and she is like one of my best buddies ever, she taught me a lot about snowboarding, and I couldnt have done it without her, he says. Nicole and the HSP program taught me all that I know right now and they completed a dream that I have always had and so one of my biggest aspirations for the future is to be able to pass it on to teach it to other people.