Five students from the University of New Hampshire’s OT program have taken their skills and training to the ski slopes as part of a new program with New England Disabled Sports, according to a news release.

OT_News-01The inaugural class of interns — Risa LaPera, Kailee Collins, Andrea Blodgett, Lindsay St. Cyr and Caitlin Hubbard — are fulfilling one of the UNH OT program’s 12-week fieldwork requirements at NEDS in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. NEDS provides winter sports opportunities to people with disabilities. This fieldwork placement is the first of its kind, according to the release.

“OTs think of everything from daily living to what’s meaningful to you,” UNH associate professor of OT Barbara Prudhomme White, PhD, OTR/L, said in the release. White, also the executive director of undergraduate academic programs at UNH in Durham, used her experience as a NEDS volunteer to design the fieldwork placement with UNH alumna Rina Drake, OTR/L, and Susan Merrill, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, the OT department’s academic fieldwork coordinator.

“I’ve always thought that occupational therapy is inherent in what we do here,” Drake, also a longtime NEDS volunteer, said in the release. “We are helping people return to their lives, using occupational performance and adaptive sport as a tool toward that end.”

OT student Caitlin Hubbard tethers Wyatt in his sit-ski down Sarsaparilla. (Photo courtesy UNH/Jeremy Gasowski)

OT student Caitlin Hubbard tethers Wyatt in his sit-ski down Sarsaparilla. (Photo courtesy UNH/Jeremy Gasowski)

One of the largest adaptive snowsports programs in the region, NEDS teaches students with cognitive and physical disabilities to ski or snowboard using a range of adaptive equipment including sit-skis tethered from behind and hula-hoops that aid balance.

To get the fieldwork placement set up, Drake, White, NEDS executive director Ralph Nelson and sports programming director Ryan Latham, found nearby housing for the five interns and convinced two other volunteers who are licensed OTs in New Hampshire to help in supervising the students.

For the interns, who teach almost every day, the unique setting adds to their OT practice.

“This is out of the box, not quite as clinical as I would get in a hospital or a school,” Collins said in the release. “But we’re still evaluating, treating [and] using so many different pieces of adaptive equipment. It’s drawing all my clinical experience and all my school experience into one.”

Like the other interns, Collins is in the first year of her master’s degree in UNH’s combined bachelor/master’s degree OT program.

“I’ve been exposed to so many different diagnoses, from spinal cord injuries to kids on the autism spectrum,” Blodgett said in the release. “You wouldn’t get to see such a wide variety in other settings.”

The environment also has given the interns opportunities to be creative when solving

UNH OT student Lindsay St. Cyr guides Dan down the Upper Walking Boss trail. (Photo courtesy UNH/Jeremy Gasowski)

UNH OT student Lindsay St. Cyr guides Dan down the Upper Walking Boss trail. (Photo courtesy UNH/Jeremy Gasowski)

their students’ challenges using a chairlift or at the top of a slope.

“To be able to work with a student whose family didn’t think they’d ever be able to ski with them again, that’s been awesome,” Hubbard said in the release.

The interns used radio headsets to help guide Dan, a retiree with vision loss from glaucoma, down an expert trail on Loon Mountain. LaPera gave Dan guidance and information on the slope condition through the headset while he followed her bright orange vest down the hill. An experienced skier in his 70s, Dan said skiing with NEDS and the interns has helped him regain social aspects of his life.

“Skiing has been his life,” St. Cyr said in the release. “He would be lost without skiing. It’s really exciting to watch him in action, to help him do what he loves.”