Harold “Hal” Frederick O’Leary, known as the founder of adaptive skiing, died at the age of 94 on June 3. O’Leary was born on May 9, 1927, in New Brunswick, Canada, and immigrated to the United States in 1949.
Ski Magazine named O’Leary “One of the 100 Best Things That Ever Happened to Skiing.”
In 1970, when O’Leary was a ski instructor in Winter Park, Colorado, he volunteered to teach a group of children with amputations to ski, the beginning of his mission to introduce sports to people with disabilities. His founding of the program at Winter Park evolved into the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which continues to serve over 4,000 children and adults each year. O’Leary also helped found the Shining Stars Foundation with Kathy Gingery in 2001 to offer outdoor recreation programs for families facing long-term pediatric cancer treatment.
“For over 50 years, Hal’s life was dedicated to teaching adaptive skiing and bringing the freedom of movement through skiing and the joy of the mountain to those less fortunate,” Gingery told KKCO11News. “However, his whole soul and spirit was dedicated, above all else, to bringing dignity, self-respect, self-confidence, and self-esteem to the disabled community worldwide wherever and whenever he could.”
O’Leary set up at least 30 adaptive ski programs in over 30 countries. He also wrote “Bold Tracks, Teaching Adaptive Skiing,” and developed a curriculum through the Professional Ski Instructors of America.
He was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, and received honors from many organizations, including the Amputee Coalition of America.
Photograph courtesy of the National Sports Center for the Disabled.