Finding freedom skiing: Girl with cerebral palsy at home on the slopes

BEMIDJI - Freedom. That's how Abbi Timms describes what it feels like to glide down the slopes. "When I'm out there, I'm just not thinking about anything except skiing," said Abbi, a Bemidji High School freshman. "Everything goes away except skiing.

Abbi Timms, with a little assistance from her father, Kyle, skis down Julia run at Buena Vist Ski Area near Bemidji, Minn.

BEMIDJI - Freedom.

That's how Abbi Timms describes what it feels like to glide down the slopes.

"When I'm out there, I'm just not thinking about anything except skiing," said Abbi, a Bemidji High School freshman. "Everything goes away except skiing. It's like freedom, flying."

Like so many skiers, Abbi anxiously awaits winter each year and then goes out skiing every weekend, making about 20 runs each Saturday morning at Buena Vista Ski Area near Bemidji.

"I do like going skiing in new places but it is nice to be in a place that I've skied at a lot, so I know the hills and where I need to go for each run," she said. "At one (Buena Vista) hill, I can look at the Chalet and then turn left, (and) on another one I look at a tree and turn right."


Those landmarks help keep Abbi -- and her partner -- vertical.

Abbi, who has cerebral palsy, skis on a bi-ski. She sits in a bucket-style seat with a ski beneath it and steers with the use of outriggers -- metal elbow crutches attached to small skis on the bottom -- which she controls on either side of herself.

A partner -- usually her dad, Kyle -- is tethered behind her. He helps her turn and control her speed.

"It makes me happy, it makes me always feel good," said Abbi, on skiing. "When I go out there, there's nothing else on my brain. Everything just goes away, everything except skiing."

"And it's our father-daughter togetherness, isn't it?" said Kyle, speaking to his daughter. "It's you and I."
'She amazes us'

Abbi was diagnosed as a toddler with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects body movement and muscle coordination. But her parents have never let her CP limit her life experiences.

"One of her very first doctors in Grand Forks (N.D.) said ... 'Abbi is only as handicapped as you let her be,'" said her mom, Kari. "It was kind of an eye-opening statement ... because initially, when we found out, the feeling of not knowing where you're going and what this child is going to be able to do, it's overwhelming to say the least. When (the doctor) made that statement to us, it was something we could grasp onto (because) that is really, truly how we try to live our life."

Abbi said that anytime she hears someone tell her she "can't" do something, it only pushes her harder.


"We look at the stuff I can do and the stuff that I need to work on and then I slowly get there," she said.

As a child, she was referred to Gillette Children's Speciality Healthcare, where she has worked with a team of medical professionals to increase her mobility. Abbi, who has undergone about a dozen surgeries, now is featured in a three-part video series through Gillette, showcasing not only the services offered but the possibilities that exist for people with CP.

"She just amazes us ... she really does," Kyle said. "The progress that she's made through the years is just unbelieveable, from swimming to skiing to going to camp by herself ... to Special Olympics ... she just does these amazing things."
Learning to fly

Several years ago, Abbi became involved with Camp Courage, a program that offers adventures and experiences for people of all abilities.

At one point, she was offered the chance to try downhill skiing.

"When Dad showed me the pictures of it, I thought it looked cool but I also thought it looked scary," she said. "But once I got out there and was trying it, I loved it, and I knew ... I would want to keep doing it."

Originally, the program was run through a nonprofit that found local volunteers to run the program, so Kyle wasn't immediately trained as Abbi's skiing partner. In those early sessions, he and Kari both watched from the sidelines as Abbi learned to control herself on the slopes.

"The first time I saw it, I just was like, "Oh, did we just, really, let her come down the hill like that?'" Kari said. "It was really hard for me at first."


It wasn't easy for Abbi right away either.

"But the people were so nice and I was enjoying it," she said. "It was just so much fun that I was like, 'OK, I'll just keep trying.'"

The adaptive ski program initially was run out of Duluth with local volunteers, but eventually it was discontinued here in Bemidji. But seeing how happy it made Abbi, Kyle took the initiative to undergo the training himself and the family invested in Abbi's own ski gear so she could continue on her own, with dad's help.

Kari often comes along, to help Abbi get onto the ski lift. Abbi's older sister, McKenzie, 20, a student at North Dakota State University, will help if she is in town.

Kari also helps Abbi keep track of her number of runs each week. Last year, Abbi made nearly 200 runs on the season; there is an unofficial goal this winter to eclipse the 200 mark.

Also frequently joining them is Lance Benson, who was Abbi's second-year volunteer in the ski program. Benson often joins both Kyle and Abbi, as he and Kyle take turns as Abbi's partner.

Abbi's skiing experience changes with both men: Whereas Kyle skis, Benson snowboards.

"He can slow me down way more, he's like a weight -- a boat anchor," Abbi said, explaining that that's why Benson is usually her partner on the steeper hills.


Abbi has skied all the hills at Buena Vista, preferring most the Julia run. She has also skied at Buck Hill in Burnsville, Spirit Mountain in Duluth and Giant's Ridge in Biwabik.

"We do fall, we crash sometimes, we have those things (happen)," Kyle said.

"But it's all a part of skiing," Abbi added.
Pushing herself further

While skiing is Abbi's passion, she is also enthusiastic about scrapbooking, swimming, visiting with her friends, being outside and listening to music. She is active in Special Olympics and enjoys her art classes at the high school as well physical education, which challenges her to swim, lift weights, play with footballs and frisbees and go bowling.

Not only does she downhill ski, but she has waterskied a few times -- utilizing equipment similar to the bi-ski -- and this past summer she also tried horseback riding.

While Abbi who doesn't have regular physical therapy anymore, she did spend two weeks down at Gillette this summer for intensive therapy work. While there, she learned to accomplish everyday tasks that will allow her greater independence.

There also were technologies there that allowed her to focused her training through games and challenges. For example, Abbi was strapped into a robotic walking machine, called a Lokomat, and set atop a treadmill that helped track and improve her gait.

"We watched TV and we played a game, like you move your feet so you could hit the deer, so if you wanted to go left, you moves your foot so you hit the deer," she said. "Or you could just walk straight and hit cars or something. It was fun, but it was a lot of work for my legs."


Abbi's regular mode of transportation is by wheelchair, though she can use a walker. Abbi said walking for her is a workout, like running would be for someone without mobility challenges. She uses her walker in gym class, when she walks laps up around the main gymnasium.

"If you ever told me that she would be able to walk around that gym up top in the high school -- like she's doing now, two laps a day for the most part -- I wouldn't have thought she could do that," Kari said, looking back at the unknowns that followed Abbi's diagnosis.

"But nobody told me that," Abbi said, "and I tried and I'm doing it. ... Just because I have CP doesn't mean I can't do it."


By Bethany Wesley, Forum News Service.

Abbi Timms, with a little assistance from her father, Kyle, skis down Julia run at Buena Vist Ski Area near Bemidji, Minn. The duo has been skiing together for the past few years.

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