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Spectacular skiers are survivors

By Steve Lipsher
Denver Post Mountain Bureau

Dec. 4 - Seven months after being paralyzed in the Columbine High School shootings, Richard Castaldo next week will join other survivors returning to the slopes and renew a long-standing family passion.

"It's something we've always done together,'' Connie Michalik, Richard's mother, said Friday. "I just want him to get back to life and let him know that, yes, he can still ski. He can still have fun.''

Richard will be one of nine Columbine survivors participating in the 12th annual Hartford Ski Spectacular at Breckenridge, an event that brings together disabled skiers, instructors and adaptive equipment manufacturers.

"Anything that has to do with disabled skiing is going on'' Sunday through Dec. 12, said Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA. "It's the largest winter sports festival for people with all types of disabilities and all types of (skiing) abilities.''

As many as 700 participants from around the nation are expected to participate in everything from learn-to-ski programs to a competitive race for advanced skiers.

Founded in 1967 by Vietnam veterans, the 60,000-member Disabled Sports has extended special invitations in past years to land-mine victims, Oklahoma City bombing survivors and Purple Heart recipients from the Gulf War. This year the group is inviting the Columbine students and their families for an expense-free week of skiing.

"First and foremost, we want this to be an opportunity for the family to share the fun and exciting sport of skiing together. And hopefully, the kids will be able to see that they can lead full and active lives, despite this terrible tragedy that hit their lives,'' Bauer said.

Donations from numerous corporate sponsors will cover the costs of lodging, banquets, sleigh rides, ski equipment and instruction - and ideally bring a smile to the faces of people such as Richard Castaldo, who has endured seven surgeries and hours of tedious and trying rehabilitation.

"They said if he knew how to ski before, it'll help,'' Michalik said of her son's entry to the world of piloting a sitski. "But obviously, it's different because he'll be sitting down. I'm sure it'll be a little frustrating, like learning all over again.''

She recalled starting her son on skis at age 6 and enjoying their regular outings until he suddenly became faster and would leave her behind.

"I think he'll just need to build up some confidence,'' Michalik said. "Once he gets really proficient and can keep up with his friends, I think he'll get back into it, which is what we want."

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