National Sports Center for the Disabled founder dies at 94

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 9:35 AM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -An icon in the world of disabled sports, Harold “Hal” Frederick O’Leary, died at the age of 94 at Denver Hospice on June 3, 2021.

O’Leary is known as the founder of adaptive skiing. He created two nonprofit organizations that changed the lives of thousand of disabled children, adults and injured military veterans.

O’Leary was born on May 9, 1927 in Beaver Dam, New Brunswick, Canada and immigrated to the United States in 1949. After spending some time in New York and Denver, he moved to the mountains in Winter Park, Colo.

In 1970, O’Leary was a ski instructor at Winter Park Resort. He volunteered to teach skiing to a group of children with amputations from Children’s Hospital in Denver. This work sparked his lifelong mission to introduce sports to people with disabilities. The program at Winter Park evolved to create the nonprofit, The National Sports Center for the Disabled. The program continues to serve over 4,000 children and adults each year.

In 2001, O’Leary also helped found the Shining Stars Foundation with Kathy Gingery in Colorado. This foundation created 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,” said Gingery. “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 traveled around the world to 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.

Over the course of his 50 -year career, he was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Organizations like the Amputee Coalition of America, the Colorado Tourism Board, the Australian Disabled Skiers Foundation honored O’Leary. He received a Golden Quill Award from the U.S. Ski Writers Association, the Jimmie Heuga Award from the Far West Ski Association and the James R. Winthers Memorial Award from National Handicap Sports.

In 1992, Ski Magazine named O’Leary “One of the 100 Best Things That Ever Happened to SKiing.”

A celebration of life will be held later this summer in Winter Park, Colo. I lieu of flowers, his family is asking for donation to The National Sports Center for the Disabled or the Shining Stars foundation to carry on his life’s work.

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