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Disabled athletes to compete in Empire State Games

Patrick Standen, left, and David Leach demonstrate the adaptive skiing equipment which will be used in the upcoming Empire State Games by adaptive athletes.

Patrick Standen, left, and David Leach demonstrate the adaptive skiing equipment which will be used in the upcoming Empire State Games by adaptive athletes. Photo by Shawn Ryan.

— The only difference between them and other athletes is the gear.

When the Empire State Games come to Lake Placid in February, disabled athletes will be competing in many of the same sports as their non-disabled counterparts. With specially-made adaptive equipment, and equal parts drive and determination, adaptive athletes will compete in cross country skiing, biathlon, alpine skiing and boarder-cross. Sled hockey will be played as an exhibition sport.

Athletes compete in either standing or sitting events, depending on disability. Blind athletes also compete in all the skiing events, including biathlon. 

Athletes compete using a point system, similar to the point system used in golf that allows an amateur golfer to compete on equal footing with a better golfer, depending on the degree of their handicap. Someone with a higher spinal injury, for example, would have their time lowered compared with an athlete who had a lower spinal injury, and thus more use of their abdominal muscles.

Blind skiers ski behind a sighted skier, who calls back information about direction and upcoming terrain. Biathletes use a standard biathlon rifle, fitted with a special laser sight. It emits a differing tone based on how close the shooter is to the bulls-eye.    

“The key for me is getting out in the woods in the winter. It’s unparalleled,” said Patrick Standen, who skis in a specially made chair built from aircraft aluminum. “I get a special thrill from this activity.”

Standen has been adaptive skiing for 14 years, and has been a driving force for organizing recreational programming and competitive opportunities for people with disabilities. He also competes in countless summer and winter sports, and is the co-founder and board president of the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association. 

For David Leach, who has been competing in stand-up cross country skiing since 2011, the reward is similar.

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