by Lex Thomas
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio di Janeiro is now a memory, but for Kathy Chandler, Olympic fever is just starting. Chandler has been appointed a Team USA coach for alpine skiing—one of 80 applicants for the position—and will travel with the team to the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017, held in Graz, Austria, from March 14 to 25. The Special Olympics is primarily for those with intellectual disabilities, but some athletes have physical disabilities as well.
Chandler is a veteran of the games, having been a coach during the 1997 games in Austria, the 2001 games in Toronto, and the 2004 games in Alaska.
“I’ve spent my life working with people with disabilities, whether intellectual, cognitive, physical, or emotional,” says Chandler. In fact, she’s done this vital work for the past 35 years.
Chandler is on the board of directors for Special Olympics Massachusetts, and runs state games for alpine skiing. She was a ski instructor and ski school director at Wachusett Mountain where she learned about teaching people with disabilities, but didn’t specialize until 1991, when she started coaching at Waterville Valley in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where she now teaches instructors. She’s worked with veterans that have returned from war zones without limbs and enter the Paralympic Games. She’s delighted that the Olympic Committee now includes the Paralympic Games in their ads.
For the upcoming Special Olympics, Chandler has four women athletes under her supervision, ranging in age from 25 to 49. Within the Special Olympics structure, skiers are ranked as novice, intermediate, and advanced. All Chandler’s skiers are ranked advanced, but that could change based on the skiing terrain at the games.
“I’ve given all my athletes dry land training exercises they need to do,” she says. “I talk to them every couple of weeks, but that will increase as we get closer to March.” Fifty-five skiers will head to Austria, together with 12 coaches from around the country.
At this point, Chandler is eagerly anticipating the December training camp in Killington, Vermont, the first time that all athletes and coaches gather together. “We’ll all be in Killington, but then the athletes go home with ideas that they’ll work on with their local coaches,” she explains. “Technology makes this so easy. I can get videos of what they’re doing and coach them that way.”
At 66, Chandler works as hard as her athletes to stay in shape. “I’m proud to be doing as much as I do, but I work very hard to stay in shape,” she says. “I train at Commit Fitness [in Leominster] at least twice a week, I play tennis three times per week, I walk every morning, and I try to eat as healthy as I can.”
Chandler skis a lot. She travels a lot. She runs a large program in Breckenridge, Colorado, for warriors who are significantly injured with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. She’s a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America, and runs clinics and certification exams for them. She has been inducted into the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame for founding the Waterville Valley Resort’s adaptive ski program.
Still, above all, Chandler embodies an attitude of gratitude. “This is such an incredible opportunity to be with people who have intellectual challenges. Their skiing improves, but I also learn so much,” she says. “I’ve spent my life doing what I love to do. How lucky am I? I’m so lucky to be able to do what I want to do.”