Now in her 6th year of teaching adaptive winter skiing, Rita Grant is no stranger on the slopes of Double H Ranch. She has spent countless hours volunteering with the Adaptive Winter Sports Program (AWSP) where she patiently helps children learn the skills they need to get down the mountain. Outside of Double H Ranch, Rita runs a business in Saratoga Springs with her husband, Skip, and also teaches Kripalu Yoga. Rita has three children; Garrison (24), Hanson (22), and Martina (18), who also teach with the AWSP. Here’s Rita’s story:
How did you get involved in volunteering at Double H Ranch?
I got involved at the Ranch because of my son Hanson. When he was in middle school he started to host racquetball tournaments to raise money for different charities. One year, a friend of his mentioned Double H Ranch, where they taught kids with disabilities to ski and snowboard. When Hanson heard of this it became the perfect place to bring his donation to.
After Hanson donated the money from his racquetball tournament, he and I were invited to come up and take a look at the Ranch. As we drove away we both looked at each other and said, “WOW could you imagine teaching there?” We both had been teaching skiing at a local mountain for the past several years. We became certified with our level 1 PSIA & Hanson with his ASSI1 certifications. We got excited to think that we could take our teaching skills and apply them to a totally different environment.
We signed up mid-season hoping to teach that year only, to have the season cut short due to lack of snow. Hanson went off to college the following year, and I began my journey at the Ranch.
Another reason I believe I was drawn to teach at the Ranch is a personal reason. My oldest sister Joanie developed Cerebral Palsy and unfortunately passed away at 6 years old. I never met her, as I am the youngest out of 7 kids. My family lived 25 years in the Adirondack mountains, our whole family grew up skiing and loving the outdoors. I knew, had Joanie been around, she definitely would have wanted to ski at a place like Double H. I feel like I’m honoring her as I work with these wonderful kids here.
Your children volunteer for the Winter Program. What’s it like to have your family volunteering with you?
This has truly been an amazing experience these past 6 years for me, and now to look over and see each one of my kids teaching, encouraging and enjoying helping to get these kids get down the mountain is really awesome!
My daughter Martina joined in first, she had been teaching for 2 years at a local mountain before coming to the Ranch. This is now her 3rd season and is looking into being a counselor for the summer program. My son Garrison had always been a very dedicated hockey player over the years, he’s an excellent skier and works really well with kids, I’m excited he’s been able to join in this year as well. Hanson is thrilled to finally be able to teach here starting this year.
To have all 3 of my kids volunteering here in this environment is really beyond words! I am so happy they have joined in and experienced this magical place together. I have always wanted my kids to be raised with love, compassion and empathy for others. I love this quote that pretty much sums up the why we do what we all do at the Ranch:
“Serve with a full heart. By making other’s happy, you make yourself happy. The key to your heart lies hidden in the heart of another.” ~ Swami Kripalu
What is your most memorable accomplishment?
Anytime I am able to see these kids feel more independent with their skiing it’s a highlight for me and them. When I see them progress with their skiing and to possibly get them to a point where they don’t need any adaptive equipment is like giving them a set of wings, you can see them beaming ear to ear and you can just feel their sense of accomplishment and excitement. They feel free strong, and proud of themselves! I’m not sure that they can experience that too many places in their lives, it’s a “gift” they get for coming here to the Ranch.
A favorite moment of mine was the first time I taught a 9-year-old boy with autism and was also visually impaired. I was so amazed at this boy’s courage and willingness to come down the mountain with me leading him with verbal cues and some adaptive equipment. At the end of the day on the final chair lift ride I told him I thought he was one of the bravest kids I had ever met! I asked him, “How did you become so brave?” He pondered quietly for a moment, and then spoke these words that I’ll never forget: “I was born that way!!”
Over the years, these amazing kids continue to inspire and bring so much joy to all that have the privilege of being with them for a few runs down the mountain.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering?
Stop thinking about it and “Just do it!” Double H Ranch offers a very unique volunteer experience. First off, it’s filled with really great and interesting people with huge hearts, who are all so helpful, encouraging and supportive. Second, to work with these kids is really unlike anything most people have ever done. It’s truly a magical experience! My mom always said, “if you want to feel good, get out of yourself and go help someone else in need.” It works!
“It’s all about the kids!” But boy oh boy, we all know we certainly walk away with a big smile on our faces as well! It is truly a “gift” to share this place with my three children and watch their hearts in action.
Thank you Double H for all that you do for the Kids as well as all the wonderful volunteers that you attract to this special place!
Come join the fun! Whether you have a day, weekend or an entire summer – Double H Ranch offers a variety of volunteer opportunities. Learn more and apply online!