Last week I had the great pleasure of watching 240-plus kids get to ride passenger on snowmobiles near Baxter, Minn., many for the first time in their life. The kids, aged 7 through 20, were born with cognitive or developmental disabilities, and they were PUMPED about the day!
The event is called the Region 5 Special Olympics Winter Carnival and organized by Confidence Learning Center in Baxter.
The rides that were given were courtesy of volunteers from the Merrifield Marathons snowmobile club, who gave their time, energy, machines and love for the sole purpose of helping others. Snowmobiling is a sport whose backbone is comprised of snowmobile club members like these, and for that we should all be eternally grateful.
This was the 34th Annual event, and the Merrifield Marathons club has run the snowmobile ride portion for the past 27 years. Awesome!
Arctic Cat plays a role in the event through help with snowmobiles, helmets and facemasks/balaclavas.
In addition to snowmobile rides, the day included dog sled rides, downhill inner-tube rides, snow shoeing, broomball, ice fishing and lunch for the kids as well as the 150 adult teacher-chaperones and the 114 additional volunteers.
The event is free for the kids who range in age 7 to 20. According to Bob Slaybaugh, Camp Director for Confidence Learning Center, the purpose of the day is help kids experience new activities. And, like the purpose of the camp itself, it’s to help teach families how to have fun together, rather than to see these kids as having disabilities or as being solely a responsibility.
It’s pretty dang cool that snowmobiling was part of the mix, with hundreds of rides given throughout the day. Some rides were on the passenger seat of a sled, while others were in the couple of Cat Cutters brought by the club.
I saw big smiles, lots of thumbs-up gestures and kids who wanted (and were given) additional rides.
Spending part of the day watching and shooting pictures, I was reminded of just how lucky we are. And by “we” I mean snowmobilers, the families involved with this event and even the kids themselves.
Contrast the experiences and opportunities available to a developmentally disabled person today to that of 100 years ago, or to someone who lives in a culture/society where such disabilities are marginalized and essentially shunned. It’s a pretty stark contrast.
Huge thanks to Confidence Learning Center, the Merrifield Marathons Snowmobile Club, the volunteers and Arctic Cat for making this day possible. And thanks to those kids, whose faces reminded me of what a joy it is to see the world from the seat of a snowmobile.
Thanks for reading.