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Making Turns with Vasu Sojitra

Adaptive Sports Director for Eagle Mount Bozeman

by Angie Ripple  |  Wednesday Mar. 1st, 2017

Sometimes editorial comes from the most interesting places, this time it was the checkout line at Costco. While items were conveying and the business account for Bozeman Magazine was showing on the back of our Costco card the cashier said something to the effect of “Bozeman Magazine, I love Bozeman Magazine. You should do a feature story about Eagle Mount’s Adaptive Sports Director Vasu!”

We listened, and got a hold of Vasu Sojitra as soon as possible. He was eager to oblige our inquiry to feature Eagle Mount. Vasu moved to Bozeman in 2014 from Burlington, VT. He had never seen Montana before, but really wanted to venture out west after falling in love with skiing and adaptive sports. It all started when Vasu was 10 years old. Well technically, it all started when he was born and at just 9 months old he had his leg amputated due to septicemia, a bacterial infection in the blood. More specifically, Vasu’s skiing obsession started when he was just a decade into this rockin’ roller coaster we call life.       
 
For his first 8 years Vasu used a prosthetic leg with minor use of forearm crutches and a bit of (hip) hopping around. This all changed when he had his last and final fall while on the faux leg. Injured and traumatized in the middle of his 3rd grade classroom, he decided to switch to 100% crutching 100% of the time. This titanium decision opened up new doors and opportunities for Vasu. He become more active and agile — participating in more sports and actually doing pretty well at them; with skiing being the primary focus.

As the years came and went, Vasu started to sculpt his life around the sport; develop new friendships, making his high school ski team, dedicating every weekend in the winter to make the journey to the mountains, and later deciding to do his undergraduate studying at the University of Vermont to be closer to the mountains.

While studying at UVM Vasu started researching how to get himself into the backcountry with crutches. After a few failed attempts and a lot of post holing during those rare East-coast powder days, he and his friends were able to develop what he now calls “a snowshoe attachment” for his outriggers (forearm crutches with little skis on the bottom). This opened up new opportunities — opportunities that people in similar situations didn’t quite have on a daily basis. The lifestyle had now been given a small voice; one that aimed to encourage others to transcend limitations, not just through emotional perseverance but also through perseverance in innovation. At this nexus Vasu finally understood the age old and possibly overused, but eternally applicable phrase, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’

Vasu was never alone in his pursuits, his parents, brother and friends continuously provided him with the opportunities to express himself freely and pursue his passions.

With a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering under his belt, Plan A was to get an engineering job. That’s what graduates do, right? Get a job for what they went to school for? Somehow, that plan changed. He decided to intern instead with Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports (VASS) at Sugarbush Mt. Ellen. VASS is a therapeutic recreation organization that helps people with disabilities recreate. This was one experience he would never forget, and a new passion started to emerge as he started to realize the power of sports and staying active.

“I had never acknowledged it, but that life changing decision I had made at the age of 10 had shaped my future to the emotionally stable state it is at now.” says Sojitra.

He goes on to say “Sadly, that’s not the case for a large population of people with disabilities. A great deal of disabilities come with an endless lists of barriers that become encapsulating to create a crushingly unhealthy state of mind, which in turn go to create more barriers. Unless you’re able to persevere and work through them, it’s easy to get caught in this loop of negative feedback. Sports, as I realized while at VASS, created confidence and independence within me, especially during emotional valleys of my life. Through this confidence and independence, I acquired the potential to grow and was able to steadily overcome these “endless” barriers that I had put on myself.”

With solid ground under him, it only took one winter to realize what his body and mind were capable of and to develop a voice for that muscular structure we call sport, and be able to advocate for individuals less fortunate than himself. Vasu used his personal connections and ability to help co-produce a film, Out on a Limb. This film was meant to spread the message of what a disability actually is in society today and how to dissolve that preconceived notion. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out! This all happened during the same winter he was working at VASS. Vasu dedicated a few weekends here and there to film in New England and Quebec with T-Bar Films. “It was eye-opening to see the interworking of film making and how to incorporate storytelling and art into sport and athleticism.” he says.

Once the film was finished and his time at VASS was coming to a close, Vasu headed out to Bozeman, MT with a few close friends to start the next chapter in his life.

“I roamed around at odd jobs that first summer, while connecting with Eagle Mount Bozeman, a similar type of organization to VASS, but also incorporating camps for people with cancer and veterans. I applied and was offered a job opening to be the Program Assistant, and soon after Program Director for our Adaptive Ski Program. With all that and much more, I was thrown right into the fire.”

Out on a Limb quickly began creating sparks among the outdoor community. “We reached for the stars when it came to pitching it to festivals. We sent it into as many outdoor film festivals as possible and to our surprise got into all the major ones including Banff Mountain Film Festival (I can still feel the flutters in my heart) and Telluride Mountain film (more flutters) being the two major ones. This was inconceivable to me and Tyler (Co-founder of T-Bar Films). We were in awe for the time being.”

Vasu and Tyler both pushed to promote themselves as professional entities, and it worked. They reached out to several ski companies to see if an ambassadorship was a possibility. DPS Skis were the first to vote yes in Vasu’s favor. And they have become one of the strongest partnerships to date. With DPS Skis backing him up he continued to reach out, landing several more partners: Dynafit, Deuter, Ortovox, Julbo Eyewear, Kate’s Real Food, Darn Tough Socks, and Skida. “

It has been quite an incredible journey, having finally created a platform to amplify that small voice that sparked in me all those years ago. Yes. I can safely say, life has been full throttle since then. Let us see if we can’t push the limit just a bit more, yeah?”

As the Adaptive Sports Director for Eagle Mount Bozeman Vasu heads up the Bridger Ski Program in the winter for over 200 skier with disabilities and 300 volunteers that help out with those lessons. He also overlooks the Cross-country Program, which has it’s own coordinator. In the summers he is in charge of the Adventure Day Camps Programs for over 100 campers with disabilities. The day camps include anything from rafting, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and cycling. In the fall Vasu overlooks Eagle Mount’s iceskating program, involving our local Bozeman schools.

“We try to do it all with our campers.” Vasu says of Eagle Mount camps. “This included a weekly climbing program at our local climbing gym to get our campers on the wall.”

Each one of these programs are growing every year and Eagle Mount is working to reach out as much as possible to get more and more people involved, either as a participant or as a volunteer to help out.

“There are so many rewarding parts to this job, but the biggest is definitely seeing how impactful something as simple as skiing is to our participants as well as our volunteers. It has helped so many build confidence and even be able to incorporate themselves into society in a more beneficial way for both themselves and others.”

I had to ask Vasu his favorite run at Bridger and here is his response: “I
And, what he wants you to know about you and/or the Adaptive Sports Program is simple: “Let’s make some turns!”

If you would like to know more about Eagle Mount visit them online at: http://eaglemount.org    

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