"After doing it for so long, I can't not do it," adaptive skier Hayley Sweeney said. "Every time Sunday comes around, I'm like; I can't wait to go again!"
Like so many other Vermonters, Hayley spends much of her free time during the winter out on the slopes.
"Every weekend," she said.
Hayley was born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder that left her without strength in the lower half of her body. The 16-year-old has been skiing with Vermont Adaptive for the last seven years. The nonprofit group works with people of all disabilities; physical, cognitive and behavioral.
"Our slogan is sports are for everybody, with an emphasis on the body. It doesn't matter what you have going on, we can figure out a way to get you on the hill," said Dave D'Angelo of Vermont Adaptive. "It's a remarkable thing to be a part of."
"You show up and they help you out with the equipment. They get you started, they give you lessons and it's up to you to see how far you want to take it," said Jim Sweeney, Hayley's father.
In the winter, Vermont Adaptive works out of Sugarbush, Pico and Bolton Valley. They have just six administrative employees, but an army of over 400 volunteers.
For the last three years, Hayley has trained with Julia Hutchinson, her volunteer guide.
"Every Sunday this year, last year and the season before. She's kind of like family to me now," Hutchinson said.
"One day she skied with Julia and I don't know, that was it. They were a unit after that-- inseparable," Jim Sweeney said.
Two years ago, Hayley made the difficult transition from a two-ski sit-ski to a monoski setup. And on a snowy day on the hill, another major step for Hayley: The tether to Hutchinson is removed.
"This has been her goal for the whole season," Hutchinson said.
And Hayley skis independently.
Hayley Sweeney: Obviously when I finished that run, I was just really excited. That's the first time this year I've gotten off of the tether.
Reporter Ian Oliver: And the first time ever on a monoski right?
"It's amazing," Jim Sweeney said. "I've dreamed about that for a long time. Hayley's been working at this for 7 years now."
"I was so stoked!" Hayley laughed.
But Hayley's journey is not over.
"This is going to get better," she said.
"She will be a complete independent person. She will be able to go skiing at any mountain she wants, by herself, which is awesome. But I'll be lonely!" Hutchinson said with a laugh.
Hayley says Julia Hutchinson will always be welcome to ski alongside her-- just as long as she can keep up.
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