Steamboat Springs Lonnie Bedwell had never mountain climbed, kayaked or skied for more than a half of a run before going blind nearly 20 years ago.
But years after a 1997 hunting injury took his sight — a friend accidently shot him in the face — Bedwell has become a pioneer among blind athletes.
In 2013, he was the first blind man to kayak the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He’s also gone from skiing beginner to expert runs in the course of one day and has summited several peaks, including Mount Kilimanjaro.
STARS Mountain Challenge
Participating teams in the STARS Mountain Challenge pair up with Olympians, Paralympians and celebrity ambassadors to compete in a series of fun challenges at Steamboat Ski Area for athletes of all abilities.
The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Challenge racers commit to raising $250 from friends and family to help support STARS adaptive programs.
Call 970-870-1950 or visit steamboatstars.com for more information or to register.
On Friday, Bedwell will speak during Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports' 10 Years of Smiles Anniversary Celebration, which is a precursor to Saturday’s STARS Mountain Challenge.
Ticket and registration information for Friday’s party and Saturday’s challenge is available at steamboatstars.com.
“I think of Lonnie as one of the success stories of STARS — he embodies what we try to do in our mission,” said STARS Executive Director Julie Taulman. “He’s continuing to push his own limits and realizing his disability is not a limitation.”
Prior to going blind, Bedwell said he had skied a half a run at Grand Targhee while serving in the Navy in the early 1990s.
“I went straight to the top and headed down, and in 200 yards, I had broken my binding and pole,” Bedwell said.
He spent the rest of the time on his four-hour lift ticket collecting his equipment and walking down the mountain and didn’t ski again until staff at a blind rehab center in Chicago needed someone to try out a new skiing program they were piloting.
“They were trying it as a new recreational outing,” said Bedwell, who enjoyed the experience and soon after visited STARS in Steamboat Springs.
Bedwell first skied with STARS in January 2011, using a guide who carried a cowbell to help Bedwell navigate his way around Mount Werner.
From there, Bedwell’s interest in adventure exploded, and he’s racked up several impressive outings since, including being the first blind man to kayak the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
He completed the descent in 2013 with help from three guides — one in front of him, one behind him and one further behind, who together helped with navigation and were there to pick up the pieces if a rapid didn’t go as planned.
The accomplishment earned Bedwell acknowledgement as a National Geographic 2015 Adventurer of the Year.
Bedwell is also the only blind kayaker to complete the the Zambezi River in Africa or the Gauley River in West Virginia.
Taulman said Bedwell has become a mentor for other blind skiers, including veterans, bringing many to STARS camps.
She said Bedwell is helping spread the message that no matter what a person is struggling with, it’s possible to overcome those challenges.
Friday’s event begins at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Ballroom and is open to the public and will include free beer and cocktails, heavy appetizers and a silent auction. Tickets are $50 for Friday’s event or $85 for the event and entry into Saturday’s STARS Mountain Challenge.
To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow