Amiyah White suffered a stroke at birth that left her with cerebral palsy and some paralysis on her right side. But she still may grow into a horsewoman one day.
The 3-year-old is participating in weekly hippotherapy sessions at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. The center is the most comprehensive place for people with disabilities to learn a variety of sports, from horseback riding to that Utah favorite, skiing.
Families come from all over the country so their children with disabilities can learn one of 17 sports, including skiing, mountain biking, swimming and snowboarding. The center’s philosophy is based on the fundamental belief that recreation is as vital to the lives of people with disabilities as it is to people without disabilities. Some participants stay for a few days to learn the basics, others stay for weeks to hone their competitive advantage.
Downhill skiing was the first sport offered by the center, founded in 1985 by Meeche White, whose sister had disabilities. Today, the nonprofit National Ability Center operates from a 26-acre site on the outskirts of Park City. Snow sports are taught at a second location at Park City Mountain Resort.
The National Ability Center Lodge offers 26 handicap-accessible rooms with two single beds that rent for a night in the winter and a night in the summer. A few have a connecting door so a family can stay together.
Parents sometimes arrive concerned about what their child will be able to do, says Allie Schneider, who has spina bifida and works in the center’s communications department. She has been coming to the center since she was 4.
“We say there are no limitations for what people can do,” Schneider says. The motto at the center is “all ages, all abilities.”