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Hal O’Leary (1927–2021), taught amputee kids to ski

by Linnea Crowther

Hal O’Leary was the founder of the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which offers skiing and other sports for athletes with disabilities.

Groundbreaking ski lessons

O’Leary was working as a ski instructor for Colorado’s Winter Park Resort in 1970 when he volunteered to teach a group of children with amputations to ski. The 23 kids were visiting from Children’s Hospital in Denver, and O’Leary was the only ski instructor willing to take them under his wing and imagine how he could help them succeed on the slopes. O’Leary was inspired to create new equipment for skiers with disabilities, and the National Sports Center for the Disabled was born from his work with them. He was one of the first people to develop an adaptive sports program. The center now serves thousands of athletes each year in a variety of sports, and it has sent athletes to the Paralympic Games.

Notable quote

“They taught me. They educated me on their needs, and I listened and watched. Now I can see someone walk and I can tell immediately if they’re short on one side or if they need adaptive equipment. They taught me what their needs were, and how I could adapt to their needs to make it a success for them to have movement on the hill.” —from a 2017 interview for the Aspen Times

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Tributes to Hal O’Leary

Full obituary: KJCT

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