Fully equipped: Being blind hasn’t kept Concord High’s Abby Duffy off the slopes

  • Fourteen-year-old Abby Duffy (right) of Concord skis in Breckenridge, Colo., with her father, Chris, as part of The Hartford Ski Spectacular this week. Abby, who is blind, is a freshman on the Concord High ski team. Courtesy of Joe Kusumoto

  • 14-year-old Abby Duffy of Concord, NH, is a bilnd skiier and is finishing her 3rd session of Concord Crew and has joined the Concord Alpine ski team. Duffy and eight other teens were surprised with new equipment, including skis, communication system, googles, helmet, poles, guide vest, and one-on-one practice sessions with Mike Schultz, U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist in Snowboarding. Courtesy—Joe Kusumoto

  • 14-year-old Abby Duffy of Concord, NH, is a bilnd skiier and is finishing her 3rd session of Concord Crew and has joined the Concord Alpine ski team. Duffy and eight other teens were surprised with new equipment, including skis, communication system, googles, helmet, poles, guide vest, and one-on-one practice sessions with Mike Schultz, U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist in Snowboarding. Courtesy—Joe Kusumoto

  • 14-year-old Abby Duffy of Concord, NH, is a bilnd skiier and is finishing her 3rd session of Concord Crew and has joined the Concord Alpine ski team. Duffy and eight other teens were surprised with new equipment, including skis, communication system, googles, helmet, poles, guide vest, and one-on-one practice sessions with Mike Schultz, U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist in Snowboarding. Courtesy—Joe Kusumoto

  • Fourteen-year-old Abby Duffy (right) of Concord stands with her father, Chris, in Breckenridge, Colo., during The Hartford Ski Spectacular this week. Courtesy of Joe Kusumoto

  • 14-year-old Abby Duffy of Concord, NH, is a bilnd skiier and is finishing her 3rd session of Concord Crew and has joined the Concord Alpine ski team. Duffy and eight other teens were surprised with new equipment, including skis, communication system, googles, helmet, poles, guide vest, and one-on-one practice sessions with Mike Schultz, U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist in Snowboarding. Courtesy—Joe Kusumoto

  • 14-year-old Abby Duffy of Concord, NH, is a bilnd skiier and is finishing her 3rd session of Concord Crew and has joined the Concord Alpine ski team. Duffy and eight other teens were surprised with new equipment, including skis, communication system, googles, helmet, poles, guide vest, and one-on-one practice sessions with Mike Schultz, U.S. Paralympic Gold Medalist in Snowboarding. Courtesy—Joe Kusumoto

Monitor staff
Published: 12/7/2018 6:27:32 PM

Abby Duffy was happy with her new winter hat. She didn’t know there was a bigger surprise coming her way.

Duffy, a Concord High freshman, showed a bright smile as she received a bundle of new ski gear at The Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colo., on Thursday. The event is one of the nation’s largest winter sports festivals for people with disabilities.

Duffy, who is blind, started skiing when she was nine and quickly got into competitive adaptive racing. This was her second year attending the event in Breckenridge and she was one of nine teens to receive new equipment, donated on behalf of The Hartford’s Ability Equipped program.

“It was so cool,” Duffy said, clearly excited as the words fired out of her mouth at a rapid pace during a phone call Friday. “Apparently a lot of people I know knew about this but I didn’t, and they started bringing out all of this stuff.”

It was stuff Duffy needed; a new pair of skis, new poles, new helmet and goggles, and a communication system so she can speak with her guide while racing. Duffy already knows how to find speed on the slopes, and the new gear should only help her get faster.

It comes at the right time for Duffy, 14, who recently joined the Concord High downhill ski team. She’s also a member of the Concord crew team.

She has big goals – making it onto the Disabled Sports USA downhill team is just one of them – and now has the right equipment to match her determination to try and make those dreams come true.

“She’s been on this journey for a while and getting better every year,” said her father, Chris, who is also her guide on the slopes. “She was on junior equipment and now she has the real thing.”

Chris contacted Concord High ski coach George Golden before the winter sports season began. Golden, a coach in New Hampshire for the last 19 years, hadn’t seen a blind skier compete at the high school level before – he believes Duffy is the first-ever in New Hampshire.

Speaking to the Monitor on Friday, Golden admitted he was a bit nervous about having a blind skier on the team because he had no experience coaching disabled athletes.

“My first concern was that I did not have the certification to coach a blind skier,” he said. “But after meeting with her dad and (Concord Athletic Director) Steve (Mello), we left feeling a lot more confident that this would be okay.”

It turned out Golden did not need a special certification to coach Duffy but he did have to make sure she has a guide when on the slopes. Her dad will fill out that role, and when he is not around, Golden has picked up a little bit of experience. During dry-land training this season, Golden led Duffy through a drill using cones to replicate a slalom course.

“We’ve had two weeks of conditioning training and she has participated in all of the activities we’ve done,” he said. “The other kids feel really good about it – to have someone on the team with a disability but that doesn’t make her any different. That’s the culture around Concord High, a good culture about being open and accepting of everybody.”

As a father, Chris has been encouraged by the team welcoming Abby.

“At first, it was like deer in the headlights,” he said. “But now, they’re so excited about it. They’ve gone from not knowing to saying, ‘This is a cool challenge.’ ”

Back in Colorado, Duffy is happy to be getting some practice done on the snow before the high school season ramps up in New Hampshire. After arriving at Breckenridge on Monday, Duffy went through a two-day giant slalom camp followed by two days on the slalom course. The week ends with races on Saturday.

Duffy first lost her vision when she was six years old. She says the optic nerves, which connects the eyeball to the brain, have withered, limiting her to only peripheral vision where she can still see contrast and motion. On the slopes, her father guides her to “help fill in the blanks,” he said.

“That’s also the reason we have headsets,” Abby said. “We need to talk so I know what is coming.”

Abby will return to Concord next week ready to get on the mountain and rejoin her teammates. She’ll have some new gear to show off, as well, and it’s more than just a cool hat.

 

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321 or nstoico@cmonitor.com.)




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