Anybody Can Ski, Says Ed Lucks, and That Includes the Handicapped and the Blind
Do a squid," shouts instructor Ed Lucks. "It's a squat—like you're going to the bathroom in the woods—with a slide." His bemused pupil executes a Grouchoesque skid across the gentle beginner's slope at Aspen's Snowmass ski area. "Now pretend you are serving martinis to midgets," bellows Lucks, "and the outrigger is your tray." Martinis? Midgets? Outriggers? If those directions sound a little unusual, well, so are Ed Lucks and his students. For the past 13 years Lucks, 56, has played counselor, equipment designer and teacher to skiers with every imaginable handicap—from double amputees to the blind and the deaf.
Lucks' instructional approach isn't just verbal; he assumes each student's physical handicap. Helping one-legged charges like Ted Kennedy Jr., who came to Lucks in 1978, Ed uses only one ski, immobilizes his other leg and keeps his balance by means of an outrigger—a sort of shortened ski attached to a pole. Working with polio victims, Lucks wears metal leg braces. "I try to simulate the condition as close as possible," he says. "But it doesn't always work because I still have feeling in my entire body. Sometimes I have to ask the students if they have a vibration in their knee or wherever so I know where the strain is for them."
Recently returned from Norway, where he helped coach the U.S. team at the second Winter Olympics for the handicapped, Lucks works with some 350 partially disabled skiers a year from around the world. In most cases, he finds that they learn as quickly as anyone else. "They have the same fears as normal people," explains Lucks, "in that they don't want to fall and hurt themselves and at first are afraid of speed and height. But there is a greater human side. A pretty girl, for example, doesn't want to go to a place where some people may think she's a freak." Out of consideration for such tender feelings, Lucks turns to gentle cajolery; at other times he barks like a drill sergeant. His toughest case was a deaf and blind girl. "We had to do everything by touch," Lucks relates. "I printed each letter of a word out on her hand." No one, however, is pampered. "After one hour he got me going on two skis," marvels amputee Barry Blicharski. "So you say to yourself, 'Okay, that's great.' Then he skis in front of you faster and faster. You start to go faster yourself just to keep up with the bloody bastard."
To the handicapped, equipment can be as vital as instruction, and Lucks adapts it to their needs in his workshop. The son of a German immigrant electrical engineer, he grew up in little Worthington, Minn., learning how to "take things apart and put them back together." He served as a B-29 training pilot in World War II, and later studied for a pharmacist's degree under the Gl Bill. By 1951 he was running his own pharmacy in St. Paul.
Then he caught a virus that no prescription could help—the ski bug. A Colorado vacation convinced him that he was living in the wrong state, so in 1964 he moved his wife Evie and their four children to a Denver suburb. By 1967 he had earned his ski instructor's certificate and started his work with the handicapped. Now living in a sprawling four-bedroom house that he built himself at Snowmass, he earns $9,000 a year from the Aspen Ski Corp. (he also teaches nonhandicapped skiers), and another $22,000 as a pharmacist. Handicapped students pay nothing, but it is their instruction that Lucks finds most rewarding. "This is the challenge," he declares, "and the greatest pleasure is the simple joy of seeing them do it. Anybody can learn to ski. Nothing is impossible—nothing."
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