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Articles:Boston Globe
Ski for Light in North Conway 
Bill Osmundsen sculpts 'Sit Skiier'

Sculptor Helps Disabled to Carve Their Own Niche In Competitive Skiing

Blind, Disabled Skiers Inspire Sculptor

By D. Quincy Whitney, Boston Globe Correspondent

Reprinted with Permission from The Boston Globe and D. Quincy Whitney

North Conway: The Olympics have ended, but many people do not realize that another is about to begin. The Paralympics, the international world games for disabled athletes, not to be confused with Special Olympics, will begin March 2 in Nagano, Japan.

Most of the blind skiers and sit skiers competing in those games developed their world-class status through involvement with Ski for Light, an international organization devoted to providing cross-country ski opportunities for the visually and mobility impaired.

Last week, in the lobby of the Four Points Hotel in North Conway, as about 100 blind and physically challenged athletes gathered for the 23d annual Ski for Light event, New Durham sculptor Bill Osmundsen was working on his sculpture "Sit Skier."

Jeff Pagels, an international sit ski champion and

vice president of Ski for Light, provided Osmundsen with details about the "chair built on skis," which allows paralysis victims who have lost the use of their lower body to ski. Pagels, a veteran sit skier who sit skied 55 miles over the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in 1993, leaves for Nagano next week to coach the US Disabled Hockey Team.

Originally formed 30 years ago in Beitostollen, Norway, the American Ski for Light program was founded in 1975 in Summit County, Colo., by Olav Pedersen. The event has been held in Colorado, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont and, for the first time this year, at Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch, at Gorham facilities hailed by Pagels and Pedersen as possibly the best in the country.

Osmundsen became connected to the Ski for Light program indirectly through his Norwegian heritage.

As a young boy, he boarded the tall sailing ship Christian Radich with his Norwegian-born grandfather, a yacht captain and rigger boss. In 1976, when the Christian Radich pulled into Boston Harbor honoring the bicentennial, Osmundsen returned to the ship to plan a series of sculptures on cadet sailing, and he met Einar Bergh.

In 1978, Osmundsen serendipitously saw Bergh in a photograph standing with a blind skier in a country ski magazine article about Ski for Light. At the invitation of Bergh, Osmundsen attended the 1979 Ski for Light event in Squaw Valley.

"It was the most fulfilling experience that I have ever had," Osmundsen said. "We tend to focus on our own problems. We think we can't do something because of this obstacle or that, not enough time, or money. Here were people who had real obstacles. Yet I met a blind woman whose hobby was gourmet cooking and a blind woodworker. They make up their minds to do things and go through the sight barrier."

.The experience inspired Osmundsen to create a plaque of a blind skier and his guide, which he presented to Ski for Light. Despite unsuccessful efforts by the Ski for Light organization to raise the money to fund the bronze fabrication of the "Ski for Light, Art for Sight" sculptures, Osmundsen created wax models in 1982, fiberglass models in 1985. So in December of 1996, when the Frisco, Colorado Arts Council raised the money to put the bronze sculpture in its park, Osmundsen was ready. His "Ski for Light, Art for Sight" sculpture was dedicated last August.

Pagels, a Green Bay, Wis., ski racer, had skied the American Bierkebeiner, the longest, most difficult cross-country race in the country. It is held in Hayward, Wis., and attracts as many as 7,000 skiers annually. In 1984, a falling tree limb left him paralyzed. In 1986, at the suggestion of a blind co-worker, Pagels decided to try sit skiing with Ski for Light.

"They had us skiing in these little red sleds with tiny ski poles. It was so hard to make the thing propel," Pagels said. "A personal breakthrough came in Traverse City, Michigan. I was out in the middle of the woods, and my pole broke. I looked at my wife and said, `Let me borrow your poles.' I took off. The secret had been in the length of the poles. From there, improvements in technology have multiplied. Now we can ski faster sitting down than most people can ski standing up." Pagels became the first skier to ski the American Bierkebeiner sitting down, and beat half of the 7,000 skiers who participated.

According to Pagels, the speedy transformation in technology of sit skiing is due largely to the efforts of Bob Hall, the first person to race the Boston Marathon in a wheelchair.

"The first frames I used to ski in weighed 15 pounds; they were ugly. Bob's frames weigh 4 pounds; they are very pretty," Pagels said. "In fact, he paints them white so, from a distance, it almost looks like we're not skiing on anything, just floating above the ground, going through the woods."

Pagels said that Ski for Light works to enlighten public, private and corporate awareness of athletes with disabilities. "We go to corporations in the outdoor industry and we say, `We are a 40-million people market. A lot of us have money. We're going to spend it if you tap into it. Tell people the outdoors is accessible," Pagels said. "Everybody should be able to go outside and play. Corporate sponsors support us heavily."

Key Ski for Light sponsors are JanSport, Hall's Wheels, Thor-Lo Socks, and Grabber Inc., which makes hand warmers.

Osmundsen is perhaps best known in New Hampshire for his large copper weathervanes installed atop the State Liquor Store in North Hampton. He continues to create original bronze sculptures, mostly portraits, from his Studio on the Ridge in New Durham.

He hopes that his sculptures can educate people across the country about blind skiers and sit skiers. "I would love to see Ski for Light sculptures go into North Conway. And I would love to see a set of these sculptures eventually go to Norway, but it all takes the funds to make that happen," said Osmundsen


. For information about

Ski for Light

call 612-827-3232.

Its address is

1455 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, MN 55408.