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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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U.S. Paralympic coach eyes Spokane as a place to recruit and train athletes, develop programs

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 7, 2018

Eli Estle (left) trains on the sit ski simulator, coached by Marc Mast, who came to Spokane from Sun Valley, where he runs a disabled athletes training program called The Wood River Ability Program. (Will Campbell / The Spokesman-Review)
Eli Estle (left) trains on the sit ski simulator, coached by Marc Mast, who came to Spokane from Sun Valley, where he runs a disabled athletes training program called The Wood River Ability Program. (Will Campbell / The Spokesman-Review)

Eli Estle heaved himself from his wheelchair into the “bucket seat,” a plastic shell that sits on a wheeled board. Helpers strapped him in and fitted on a helmet. Inside the gymnasium at Valley Christian School, he’s training for this winter’s ski season.

Before Estle lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident about two years ago, skiing and shooting were regular hobbies.

They still are.

Estle participates in the biathlon, a winter sport that combines the activities. The sport is part of both the Olympics and Paralympics.

Some day, Estle hopes, he’ll compete in the latter.

He and about 30 other athletes got a chance to show what they could do Saturday at a clinic run by ParaSport Spokane at Valley Christian School and in front of one of the country’s top Paralympic coaches. The coach, BethAnn Chamberlain, flew to Spokane from Minnesota to scout out athletes for the team and promote winter sports among para-athletes.

Chamberlain, who competed in the biathlon in the Sochi Olympics, said she’s excited about Spokane as a place to nurture Paralympic athletes. She’s looking at Mt. Spokane as a venue for a Nordic Paralympic program.

“I’m keeping an eye out for athletes,” she said. “And I’m looking to springboard a program here.” That includes working with Mt. Spokane to make wheelchairs more accessible.

Chamberlain also spent time with the athletes, who are mostly involved with basketball and track and field. In an effort to get more of them into winter events, she taught them what the biathlon entails: shooting air rifles from 10 meters at a target the size of a dime while lying down, then skiing a loop, then doing it again. She also ran demos for “sit skis” like the one Estle was using.

Teresa Skinner, executive director for ParaSport Spokane, said she partnered with St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, Spokane Nordic Ski Association and U.S. Paralympics.

“We’re just introducing them to more opportunities,” she said.

Skinner is looking forward to the 2028 Paralympics because the U.S. is hosting them, but she said the country needs to step up its support. She’s coached at the last three summer Paralympics, in Beijing, London and Rio.

“NBC doesn’t air it,” she said, though when she travels to other countries, she said they are more interested in Paralympics than the U.S.: “We are two decades behind other countries.”

About 200 kids in Spokane County are disabled and eligible to participate in programs like ParaSport, said Skinner. The clinic she hosted was a way to get more of them to join.

The clinic included track and field and Nordic events, like skiing.

“It’s a privilege to have Spokane on the national radar,” said Robin Redman, an organizer at the Spokane Nordic Ski Association, who helped athletes at Saturday’s clinic.

Redman said she has high hopes for Estle. “He’s extremely athletic and strong,” she said.

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