Like any athlete, the jock in a wheelchair (either gender) is going to push the envelope when it comes to advancing the scope of a sport, just to see where it goes. Since we’re talking about winter sports, let’s stop in Maine, one of the nation’s greatest suppliers of snow for the season, to check out…monoskijoring?
Monoskijoring is a brand-new sport for the disabled that combines cross-country skiing on a sit-ski and dog-sledding. It’s a difficult and challenging sport; keeping your balance is a challenge, especially if you have a disability that affects your balance and coordination, like spina bifida.
When Joe Albee digs his poles into the snow to pull his monoski upright after a spill, he does it with a smile. He’s loving every minute of his time cruising the trail with his powerful dog team that picks up speed during the ride.
The 27-year-old Albee cannot walk and has almost no feeling in his legs due to his spina bifida that caused incomplete spinal cord development, but he knows nobody ever said life was easy. Albee decided that, though monoskijoring was something that nobody else had ever tried, he wanted to do it.
Albee has played sports all his life, from wheelchair basketball to tennis to skiing, a sport he discovered in eighth grade. “Through Maine Adaptive Sports, I was hooked up with a monoski so I could go up to Sugarloaf and join my classmates up on the ski slope for the first time, and absolutely fell in love with it,” Albee said. “It was incredible.”
A monoski, or sit-ski, is a specialized device that mounts a broad ski blade to a metal frame and seat, with shock absorbers to ease the ride on bumpy terrain. Poles called outriggers, with their own small skis at the bottom, are attached to the skier’s forearm. Albee showed such an aptitude for the skill that before long, he was a competitor for the Maine Adaptive Sports downhill ski team, and he continued to compete for eight years, until at the age of 26, his 25th surgery to mend a pressure sore from skiing put a stop to the activity.
“When I was younger, I had a lot of surgical procedures to do with my disability, spina bifida,” Albee said. “So I’d come home and be recuperating for sometimes weeks, and I’d always have a dog laying at my feet or by my side when I was having those hard times. I really felt like it was very therapeutic.”
He decided, once healed, he would involve dogs in his activities. Albee has loved dogs since he was a young boy, and the animals provide him with companionship and comfort on a daily basis. After a few trial sledding runs with a dog team from the Heywood Kennel Sled Dog Adventures kennel, he began to consider adding his monoski to the mix.
“Being on a downhill race team, we learned to do some pretty fast-paced skiing,” Albee said. “So this can be fast-paced, but it’s more of a level ground that you’re going on and it’s different. It’s fun and relaxing at the same time.”
The experiment has been a success, but Albee doesn’t feel he’s perfected the process yet. He’s still working with friends to modify his ski while considering building a new vehicle specifically designed for the sport. He’s hoping that in time, monoskijoring will take off in its own right and bring joy to people with disabilities all over the world—he’s already got a handful of folks in Maine eager to try it out.
Take a look at Joe Albee enjoying his sport. We think it looks like fun! Do you think monoskijoring will make it as a Paralympic sport?