Getting Back to the Slopes

By Peter Broderick | Like many people living with MS, Patrick Tulley has experienced a variety of symptoms over the years. But the effect MS has had on his walking is what’s had the most direct impact on his life and his lifestyle.

“My first symptoms were numbness and a noticeable walking problem -- staggering like I was drunk,” says Tulley, who was originally diagnosed in 2001.

“Prior to my diagnosis, I had been active in alpine and cross country skiing, camping and fly fishing, bicycling and hiking,” he said. As a native Coloradan, an active, outdoor lifestyle was true to his upbringing.

“I started on MS treatment drugs immediately, but continued to have MS exacerbations and my mobility declined despite my attempts to stay active,” said Tulley. “Because of my poor balance, I stopped riding my mountain bike, and hadn’t even considered trying to ski again.”

Fast-forward to 2014, and Tulley was well settled into his new reality – although he’d been able to keep his job and maintain his career, life with MS simply meant he wouldn’t be doing many of the outdoor activities he grew up with. “My wife Linda, saw the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s MS Winter program described in InforMS Magazine,” he said. “We contacted BOEC to find out more about it.”

The following February, Tulley joined BOEC for their MS-focused ski program on the slopes at Breckenridge. “With the instruction of the BOEC ski staff and dedicated volunteers, I learned how to bi-ski -- a type of sled with two skis beneath it,” said Tulley. “I felt as if I’d been taken back in time with the feeling of the brisk mountain air on the ski lift and the exhilaration of speed as I traversed down my first ski run.” 

After more than a decade during which he lost much of the mobility in his legs, and continuing to live with other effects of MS every day, Tulley was back on the slopes. “I couldn’t keep from smiling that entire day, and throughout the entire course,” he said.

“What I didn’t expect was the wave of emotion I felt when I realized I was skiing again, which had been a very important part of my life until MS had tried to take it away from me,” said Tulley. “I had overcome my disabilities with the help of the BOEC staff and I was skiing again!”

Established more than 40 years ago, the BOEC hosts a wide array of programs all year round. In addition to their adaptive ski and snowboard school, other options include rafting and canoeing, wilderness programs, hiking and backpacking, adaptive cycling and more. Many programs are hosted at their home base above Breckenridge – a 39-acre campus featuring a residential lodge. Others are “on-site” around Colorado.

BOEC hosts individuals and groups throughout the year, but of particular interest are the programs from Adventures Within, Inc. Founded by Charlotte Robinson-Pritchard, AWI has organized outdoor experiences for people with MS for more than 20 years. BOEC has taken the baton from AWI, and continues to fulfil its mission of bringing adaptive sports and outdoor experiences to the MS community.

“The BOEC winter MS program was so rewarding that I decided to participate in their summer program that same year,” said Tulley. “With activities such as the ropes course, river rafting, and adaptive cycling, I was accomplishing more than I thought possible after my diagnosis and disability.”

The BOEC has pushed me to strive for goals that before taking their programs, I thought were unattainable,” said Tulley. “My participation with the BOEC has formed my view of challenges, I am now confident enough in myself to try a new range of activities such as kayaking, adaptive golf, and yoga.”

The BOEC’s 2017 Adventures Within Summer Mountain Retreat will be held August 25-29 at their facility in Breckenridge. The Summer Retreat is specially designed for adults living with MS, along with their friends and family members. The retreat features activities such as rafting, canoeing, ropes course and plenty of time to enjoy the mountains. 

Contact the BOEC directly for more information on any of their upcoming programs. Visit their website at www.boec.org, or call 1-800-383-2632.