SUPPLEMENT TO THE SUNDAY, JANUARY 26, 2020 ISSUE OF THE TRIBUNE
HEALTH BEAT A magazine about fitness and wellness in the Detroit Lakes area
GROWING STRONGER AS A FAMILY
The Voleskys of Detroit Lakes find Tae Kwon Do workouts really pack a punch See full story inside
Alpine racing at Detroit Mountain, the new Engage program for seniors, and more!
Table of Contents
3 THE ENGAGE PROGRAM
It’s like a summer camp for seniors
6 TAE KWON DO
The family that kicks together, sticks together
Chronic pain and panic attacks from a common antibiotic
13 LEARNING THE SLOPES
Detroit Mountain’s fast-growing alpine racing program
SUPPLEMENT TO THE SUNDAY, JANUARY 26, 2020 ISSUE OF THE TRIBUNE
A magazine about fitness and wellness in the Detroit Lakes area
Cover photo of Patrick, Madeleine, Lauren and Emily Volesky (left to right), GROWING STRONGER AS A FAMILY
The Voleskys of Detroit Lakes find Tae Kwon Do workouts really pack a punch See full story inside
Alpine racing at Detroit Mountain, the new Engage program for seniors, and more!
(Marie Johnson / Health Beat)
PUBLISHED JANUARY 26, 2020
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Engage Coordinator Melia Stevenson, center, leads a Line Dancing class with Engage participants in the basement of the Holmes Theatre in December. (Marie Johnson / Health Beat)
It’s like a summer camp for seniors Detroit Lakes’ new Engage program focuses on fun and wellness — mind, body and soul BY MARIE JOHNSON | MTJOHNSON@DLNEWSPAPERS.COM
hey say it’s like being back at kids’ summer camp — but even more fun. The roughly 30 or 40 seniors who regularly join in activities through the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center’s Engage program have an array of things they can choose to do throughout the year, from the tried and true — like the weekly Crumbcake and Coffee events that draw strong crowds every Monday morning — to the totally new, like tubing down the Otter Tail River, which a few of them had never done before. The Engage calendar is chock-full of camp-like events and outings: Group hikes, bike rides, games, crafts, dancing, field trips, fitness classes, learning opportunities, and lots more. Then there’s the social aspect; the chance to share new experiences with friends, meet new people, and make new friends.
“If you like to keep busy, this is the place to be. I love to come for the camaraderie, the fellowship. I’ve made a lot of new friends.” -Kay Schiller Open to adults ages 50 and up, Engage activities are focused on overall wellness — mind, body and spirit. The program is intended to help seniors maintain a healthy lifestyle, healthy relationships, and a positive outlook on life. It kicked off last February, and by all accounts, the program is meeting its mission. Every senior spoken to for this article (and there were many) had nothing but good things to say about Engage. “It brings people together,” said Kathy Mickelberg, an active participant. “You establish friendships, and it oftentimes just
fills a void that isn’t necessarily always filled when you get older. It’s a place to come together, share, and develop new friendships. Some of these people have lost their spouses...” Henrietta Malchow, for example, lost her husband in December 2018, and she credits the Engage program with bringing her out of her shell. “Engage got me out of the house,” she said. “It was just what I needed, the fellowship.” Newly widowed, she found that the program’s group outings — in particular a bus trip to Chanhassen to see the musical “Mamma Mia” — “showed me, ‘I can do it.’” Newcomers to Detroit Lakes have also found Engage to be a welcome social outlet. SUMMER CAMP continued on page 4
HEALTH BEAT | PAGE 3
SUMMER CAMP continued from page 3
Char Brekken, who moved to town six years ago, said getting to know a new community, and make new friends, was challenging for her at first. “It was kind of a lonely time,” she said. “The Engage program changed things for me. I have met and befriended interesting people, have become involved with community events, and have loved becoming involved, or ‘engaged,’ in activities I never imagined would be so fun… Getting older, retiring and maybe being alone doesn’t necessarily lead to a lonely, boring life. So much to live for — get involved!” Like many Engagers, Brekken gave praise and credit to Engage Coordinator Melia Stevenson for creating the program and leading it with “enthusiasm, warmth and genuine interest.” “I just love all the energy that Melia has,” said Barb Birznieks. “But especially, I enjoy how she’s developing a community. I find it very fun.” As coordinator, Stevenson is charged with coming up with about 15 to 20 hours’ worth of Engage activities and events every week. Many of the activities begin as suggestions from the Engagers themselves, and Stevenson transforms turn those ideas into reality. “I have the world’s best job,” said Stevenson. “I’m kind of like a camp counselor for seniors. It’s really fun.” Stevenson, a former elementary school teacher who actually was a summer camp counselor years ago, is passionate about the Engage program. And she sees it pay off with her own eyes. “The intrinsic value I see is absolutely huge,” she said. “The program creates a community where people are caring for each other. They look out for each other, even after they move on to nursing homes and such… Looking at the demographics in Detroit Lakes, we have a high population of seniors, and I believe this program is invaluable to keeping seniors engaged — mind, body and spirit.” In addition to everything already mentioned, Engagers have opportunities to attend performances at the Holmes Theatre in a special group seating area; learn about other cultures through their “Passport Around the World” program; be part of a book club; watch presentations and attend seminars on a variety of interesting topics; PAGE 4 | HEALTH BEAT
Engage Coordinator Melia Stevenson, right, with participants Kathy Mickelberg, center, and Mary Wosika, on a Heartland Trail Bike Ride arranged through the Engage program earlier this year. (Submitted Photo)
Pontoon rides were a hit with Engagers this past summer. (Submitted Photo)
bring their favorite dishes to pass at potluck socials; sign up for water aerobics or Silver Sneakers senior fitness classes together; give back to the community through group volunteer efforts; and take part in intergenerational activities like the “Reading Buddies” program, where they read to local schoolchildren. In the past year, Engagers have toured Lakeshirts’ headquarters, taken a weeklong Coach bus trip to Branson, Missouri, traveled to Twins games and the Minnesota State Fair, learned how to make martinis from
the folks at Hub 41, and got a lesson in making homemade guacamole at Don Pablos, among other special events and field trips. Most of the regular Engage activities take place in the lower level of the Holmes Theatre, in the same space as the Senior Center and Holmes Art Cellar, and right next to the community center. Many of the seniors do their workouts at the center either right before or right after an Engage event. For more information about Engage, visit www.dlccc.org/engage.html. A new calendar of events is posted there every month.
Engagers take a number of Coach bus trips. In the past year, they’ve gone to Twins games, the Minnesota State Fair, Chanhassen Dinner Theatre and other places. Here, a group lines up at a bus outside the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center in December. (Marie Johnson / Health Beat)
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HEALTH BEAT | PAGE 5
Lucas Holzhueter, owner and instructor at the Detroit Lakes School of Tae Kwon Do, does does a turning-jump-kick with assistance from Patrick Volesky.. (Desiree Bauer / Health Beat)
The family that kicks together, sticks together The Volesky family of Detroit Lakes grows stronger through Tae Kwon Do BY DESIREE BAUER | DBAUER@DLNEWSPAPERS.COM
ome people take fitness classes, some do yoga, and others, such as the Volesky family of Detroit Lakes, like to kick it up a notch with Tae Kwon Do. The Voleskys — Patrick, Emily, and their two daughters, Lauren, 14, and Madeleine, 12 — have been developing their martial arts skills together at the Detroit Lakes School of Tae Kwon Do and Kumdo for the past six years. It’s a family activity they all enjoy, and it’s one that provides individual health benefits like better balance, lost weight and stress relief. “I was working an office job and gaining a lot of weight,” says Patrick of why he got into Tae Kwon Do. “Going into the winter months and looking at myself … thinking, ‘What am I going to do about this?’” Tae Kwon Do is a Korean form of martial PAGE 6 | HEALTH BEAT
“You don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be fit. You just need to have a good attitude.” -Patrick Volesky arts that combines feet and hand movements for self-defense. It’s a combative sport with an emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast-kicking techniques. Patrick did Tae Kwon Do for awhile as a teenager, but dropped out — a decision he says he later regretted. He decided to take the leap and try it again, this time with his two daughters in tow, to get into better shape and teach the girls how to protect themselves.
Once they started, they all loved it. “There’s some accountability — you have other people there,” Patrick says. “People are behind you in line to do these exercises; it was a good motivator.” “The first few months of Tae Kwon Do, my goal was to just not be the last person to finish the workout,” he adds with a laugh. “It seemed like a lofty goal … but as I progressed, I got better.” Master Lucas Holzhueter, the owner and instructor of the Detroit Lakes School of Tae Kwon Do and Kumdo, adjusts workouts and moves to fit students who are at a variety of different fitness and ability levels, something Patrick says was helpful to him and his daughters. Holzhueter has taught students from age 5 to beyond retirement, he says. One of his
Emily Volesky started grad school while taking Tae Kwon Do classes and also working at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s, and she found it to be a great stress reliever for her. “I think I just would have gone crazy without it,” she says. (Desiree Bauer / Health Beat)
students was over 60 years old, and earned black belts in three of the four martial arts categories he offers at his gym. “(Tae Kwon Do) is something you can do as long as you’re there and you put your heart into it and you’re committed to it,” Patrick says. “You don’t have to be young, you don’t have to be fit. You just need to have a good attitude.”
Bitten by the Tae Kwon Do bug
In time, Patrick found that he could get through a line without becoming completely winded. His posture improved, he had better balance, and he lost about 30 pounds.
About then is when, after months of encouragement from her husband and their girls, Emily decided to test out Tae Kwon Do, too. “I didn’t really want anything to do with it,” she says of her initial reaction to the sport. “I’ve never been a natural athlete ... And then I was pretty glad I did.” Today, Emily is probably the biggest fan of Tae Kwon Do in the Volesky family. She says her body “can do better things than it could before,” and Tae Kwon Do has become her outlet for stress as she studies her way through grad school. For Patrick, it’s become a way of “helping
let that day just wash away,” he says. And for their daughters, it’s an educational and social experience. It allows them to learn different Korean words, commands and numbers; along with respect, discipline, how to behave in group settings and be comfortable in public. They also get to meet new people. “There’s people that go to the gym that go to the same school as us (Detroit Lakes Middle School), but we would never have talked to them if it wasn’t for Tae Kwon Do,” Madeleine says. FAMILY KICKS continued on page 8
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HEALTH BEAT | PAGE 7
FAMILY KICKS continued from page 7
All the Voleskys have their different niches in the sport: Emily knows the techniques the best, Patrick easily remembers the patterns, Madeleine is competitive — winning gold at nationals last year and hoping to get to the Olympics — and Lauren has a natural talent with weapons. They all earned their black belts within months of each other, about 1 to 1-1/2 years ago. “It’s really turned into a family affair for them,” Holzhueter says of the Volesky’s involvement. The Voleskys say doing Tae Kwon Do together helps them keep up their motivation and attendance in class. “I think if we weren’t all in it, maybe one or two would have dropped off by now,” Patrick says. Emily agreed, adding, “It’s so engaging. It’s not only physical but you learn new things, so it keeps you mentally sharp.” “It’s a lot more than (kicking and punching),” Holzhueter says. “It’s about the personal development of your whole self … You’re here to develop your own personal skills.”
Holzhueter started learning Tae Kwon Do when he was eight years old — not because he wanted to protect himself, lose weight or exhaust some of that young kid energy, but rather because, “my parents wanted me to learn some more respect,” he says. Growing up in Bemidji, Minn., Holzhueter didn’t listen well to his female teachers, and his parents thought Tae Kwon Do, especially a program with a female instructor, might help with that. Once he joined, Holzhueter never left. He’s been actively involved in Tae Kwon Do for almost 28 years now. He taught classes as a junior black belt when he was only 12 years old, took over a Tae Kwon Do group in college for four years, and mastered his black belt in every degree. Over the years, he’s also led sessions with multiple police officers, sheriff’s deputies and the Minnesota National Guard. “I have a lot of experience dealing with people from different martial arts backgrounds,” he says. Those experiences have benefited him as the owner of the Detroit Lakes School of Tae Kwon Do and Kumdo, which he opened 12 years ago. The school has grown in PAGE 8 | HEALTH BEAT
Patrick Volesky and his daughter, Madeleine, practice their Tae Kwon Do skills during a family class. (Marie Johnson / Health Beat)
gym size and students over the years, with as many as 150 students at the gym today, most of them youth. The school switched locations a few times in its early years, before eventually landing at its current spot on Fortune Ave. Holzhueter credits his success to his early Tae Kwon Do roots — his original gym and master in Bemidji. Today, he owns that Bemidji gym, in addition to the one here in Detroit Lakes.
Pushing that comfort zone
Holzhueter and the Voleskys acknowledge that Tae Kwon Do has some intimidating aspects. The idea of having to test in front of an audience to get a new belt, for example, can hold some prospective students back. “But it’s really not that bad,” Patrick says. “Martial arts helps push some of those comfort zones, and doing things in public in one of those comfort zones … We’ve all been there before. Everyone watching is not judging.” He suggested that anyone interested in Tae Kwon Do just, “Come in through the
door. Come in and check it out.” Those who don’t want to test up for a belt don’t have to. “A lot of people just join it and they don’t really care about moving up in ranks,” Madeleine says, explaining that the ranking system is just a formality so they can learn new moves. Those who do test usually achieve their black belts in three to five years. “People have to have real accomplishments here to move on,” Holzheuter says. “You don’t get a black belt just because you showed up every day. We are not a belt factory.” Since owning his own gym, Holzheuter has tested out about 450 orange belts (the second belt on the Tae Kwon Do ranking system), 100 red belts (the second to last belt on the system), and under 100 black belts (the final belt). His students practice a “very traditional style” of martial arts, he says, always addressing others as sir and ma’am. All of his classes focus on self-defense.
‘FLOXED’ Chronic pain and panic attacks: My son’s journey to cope with the serious side effects of a common antibiotic BY NATHAN BOWE | NBOWE@DLNEWSPAPERS.COM
nybody else out there know that antibiotics can have serious side effects? I didn’t. I thought they were fine. The more powerful, the better. That’s what I thought. Eight months ago, my son, Jonah, at the age of 24, found out the hard way how wrong I was. He got “floxed” after going to a local seven-day clinic and getting prescribed a Nate Bowe strong antibiotic, levofloxacin, for a bad sinus infection. What followed was months of pain and anxiety like he’d never known before. “Words cannot describe the anxiety it set off,” he told me. “The fear that you’re going to die, the major anxiety about what’s going to happen to you.”
‘The nuclear bomb of antibiotics’
As it turns out, anxiety is one of the serious side effects of levofloxacin, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But there are worse side effects that Jonah managed to avoid: He didn’t go blind. He didn’t end up bedridden. He didn’t rupture a tendon. Unlike the thousands of other people who have shared their stories, desperate for help, on websites and Facebook pages after taking levofloxacin. There’s a whole community of people online who report being floxed, as they call it. The fluoroquinolones toxicity group on Facebook has over 10,000 members, and the Floxie Hope website offers recovery stories, advice for the newly floxed, and tips on finding help. It’s alarming and demoralizing to read posts from people who are in chronic pain, permanently disabled or blind from being floxed, especially when it first happens to you and you don’t know how bad SIDE EFFECTS continued on page 10
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SIDE EFFECTS continued from page 9
“I was revved up, I was anxious,
I was energetic. My body it’s going to get (it takes nine months to a year to find out) so Jonah tries to focus on was trembling, my fingertips the success stories, and to encourage others and hands started going numb. himself. My heart rate was so amped up. He’s learned that some people suffer for That’s when I knew years before they figure out what’s wrong something was wrong.” with them. They think they have fibromyal-Jonah Bowe gia, lupus, ALS, osteoarthritis or Lyme disease, only to find out later that the treatment they received for those diseases may He says one of the (many) frustrating have made their floxed condition worse. things about being floxed is that no two They are among the millions of people people are impacted the same way, and (22 million Americans in 2014, according what makes one person better may make to the FDA) who another person took Levaquin or worse. That’s other antibiotics Floxing can affect one or because floxing in a class called all of these body systems: can affect one or fluoroquinolones, Musculoskeletal, peripheral Despite ongoing health struggles due all of these body which include to the side effects of a prescription nervous system, neuropsychiatric, systems, accorantibiotic, Jonah Bowe remains hapciprofloxacin (Cisenses, cardiovascular and skin. ding to the FDA: py and optimistic. (Submitted Photo) pro), norfloxacin, Source: U.S. Food and Drug Musculoskele(Noroxin), ofloxaAdministration tal, peripheral cin (Floxin), trovawere the worst. nervous system, floxacin (Trovan), “It was like a ripping pain through my neuropsychiatric, senses, cardiovascular lomefloxacin (Maxaquin), gatifloxacin calves, legs, tendens, like they were ripping and skin. (Tequin), and moxifloxacin (Avelox). off the bone,” he says. “Your body feels “It’s like the nuclear bomb of antibiofragile, like paper mache.” FDA finds chronic pain tics,” Jonah says. “The FDA claims less Ice packs became his best friends, as the and ruined lives than 1% of people who have taken fluoropain hit in one area one day, then would After receiving enough complaints about quinolones suffer from adverse side effects. move to another place the next, mostly in serious and lasting fluoroquinolone side But the level of people who have been his lower body. effects, the FDA evaluated patients who misdiagnosed after taking fluoroquinolones The first two months, “I couldn’t drive, had been seriously floxed. Three-quarters is unknown. I think that 1% is extremely eat, sleep, of them inaccurate … So many people don’t know travel — I had were 30 about it and don’t get diagnosed by a to crawl up More than 20,000 people a year go to 59 doctor.” the stairs or to the emergency room after taking years walk around fluoroquinolones. One study found that old. Floxed by a vending machine the (outside of even the safer fluoroquinolones resulted “Many Like many doctors, the physician the) house,” patients in high rates of hospitalization “due to working that Sunday in the local clinic he says. The descripsychiatric and neurologic adverse events.” apparently didn’t know that the Food and pain in his bed how Drug Administration had three years earlier Patients have developed hallucinations legs was seriously issued a “black box warning” specificaland suicidal thoughts shortly after taking “like having the ly against prescribing levofloxacin for a the antibiotics, or severe liver and kidney a cramp that disability sinus infection — except as a last-ditch problems. wouldn’t go impacted effort when less powerful antibiotics Source: National Center for Health Research, away. Every their failed. Otherwise, the FDA says, the risks Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tendon under lives, outweigh the benefits. my waist felt including Jonah got his 10-day levofloxacin preslike it was being shredded. I walked with a job loss and the resulting lack of health incription out of a vending machine at that walking stick. It was terrible.” surance, large medical bills, financial proclinic, 10 minutes after it was prescribed. Insomnia, panic attacks blems, and family tension or dissolution,” He says the doctor didn’t mention anything the FDA said in a report on its website. about potential side effects, and there was and paranoia The average patient in the study had no pharmacist there to warn him. One of the more insidious side effects been dealing with serious side effects for “I started having symptoms on the of being floxed is the way it can affect 14 months. The longest for nine years. second night,” he recalls. “I was revved up, the central nervous system, leading to Long-term pain was the most common I was anxious, I was energetic. My body insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, nervousness, symptom, with 97% of all cases reporting was trembling, my fingertips and hands agitation, even seizures. pain in their musculoskeletal system. started going numb. My heart rate was so “My nervous system was affected amped up. That’s when I knew something Jonah came to know that pain well. It SIDE EFFECTS continued on page 12 was wrong.” occurred in stages, but the first 4½ months PAGE 10 | HEALTH BEAT
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HEALTH BEAT | PAGE 11
has done a 180-degree turn on his eating ly decrease the rate of fluoroquinolone habits, embracing a gluten-free, dairy-free, prescribing (in) family medicine practice immediately,” Jonah told me. “From the extremely low sugar diet and eating only clinics.” moment I felt that tingling in my fingertips, farm-raised meat from animals never given As painful and debilitating as this expeI didn’t sleep the whole time. I felt extreme antibiotics. rience has been for Jonah, he’s been lucky. paranoia, panic attacks, I couldn’t sleep.” He cooks He found We put him on a mattress on the living most meals out almost The FDA issued a “black box warning” room floor, and my wife, Terri, slept on a himself, right away, about fluoroquinolones in 2016, the most couch next to him, but Jonah was either shopping ofby doing serious warning it puts out. tossing on the mattress or up pacing all ten at Manna his own night. Food Co-op research on “I probably went about a week without and at Amish farms, and Roasted is one of the Internet, that he had been floxed. He sleep,” he says. the few local restaurants he eats at, because saw a doctor who immediately stopped the For the first month, his sleep was short of its locally sourced food. He has to be caone-pill-per-day treatment after four doses and troubled, with terrible nightmares. His reful: The wrong food will cause a flareup and put him on Amoxicillin, a much less anxiety was so visible, and so alarming, of his symptoms and days of pain. powerful antibiotic, which cleared up his that a doctor fast-routed him to a mental Because of the way medications can sinus infection. health counselor. Those sessions were interact with his condition, he thought hard Unfortunately, most of his visits with before agreeing to take a Novocaine-type helpful during the worst of it, not least medical doctors after being floxed left him painkiller for the removal of an impacted because a medical professional affirmed frustrated and troubled. The doctors didn’t wisdom tooth in late summer. He paid for seem to be listening to him — or me, I what he was feeling, Jonah says. One of that pain relief with “one huge, astounding, usually went with him — and they didn’t the frustrating things about being floxed is terrible (three-week) flare-up,” he says. seem to people don’t From the start, Jonah has researched believe that believe you, In an FDA study, the average floxing patient his condition online and experimented fluoroand medical had been dealing with serious side effects with different dietary supplements, from quinolone professiofor 14 months. The longest for nine years. Vitamin C to collagen — at first on his side effects nals don’t Long-term pain was the most common own and later with the help of Waters. were behind seem to symptom, with 97% of all cases reporting He admits he went about it the wrong his sudden take you pain in their musculoskeletal system. way. Not sure what was helping and what health proseriously. wasn’t, he has stopped taking them all, and blems. Fortunaafter a month will test them one at a time to “I’m not trying to bash on doctors, but tely, Jonah has left the nervous system the regular doctors were not real helpful,” issues behind, no longer sees the counselor, see if they help. he says, adding that there doesn’t seem to and now deals strictly with the physical On the upswing be much that regular medicine can do to pain. In general, Jonah said things are looking More than 20,000 people a year go to the treat fluoroquinolone side effects, anyway. up. emergency room after taking fluoroquino“November was wonderful,” he says. Turning to alternative medicine lones, according to the National Center “It’s gotten better and better.” After 2½ weeks, Jonah went to see a for Health Research. And a CDC study A musician in the reggae band Rootz naturopathic doctor, Joan Waters, who found that even the safer fluoroquinolones Within, Jonah is now able to travel, play practices in Detroit Lakes. She hadn’t resulted in high rates of hospitalization guitar and sing again. treated anyone with fluoroquinolone toxi“due to psychiatric and neurologic adverse “It’s a lot of two steps forward and one city before, but listened to him, strongly events.” Even worse, patients have devestep back, but normal life stuff is starting to supported him, researched it, and has loped hallucinations and suicidal thoughts come back to me,” he says. helped get him to where he is now — close shortly after taking these antibiotics, or He can ride to the Twin Cities without to fully functional, and feeling the best he severe liver and kidney problems. stopping, and play a set without having to has in eight months. These antibiotics are nothing to play sit down for it. On his first trip to the Ci“I don’t realize how far I’ve come until I around with. Yet the National Center for ties, shortly after getting floxed, he said he look back on it,” he says. Health Research reports that one in three had to stop maybe 15 times to try to walk Along the way, he also did everything he patients, like Jonah, receive them unnecesoff deeply painful leg cramps. could to help himself. sarily. “The biggest part is just accepting what He didn’t take corticosteroids, happened to you. Gabapenten, Black box warning is People will go or other meditoo often ignored The National Center for Health years and years cations often How can that be? The FDA issued Research reports that one in three without accepting prescribed for a black box warning in 2016, the most patients receive fluoroquinolones it because no docflox-type sympserious warning it puts out. But a lot of unnecessarily. tor will diagnose toms, which doctors apparently didn’t get the word: it,” Jonah says. his research Two studies referenced in an online article “My life will never be the same again, but showed could make his condition worse. in Contagion Live conclude that “the 2016 I can lead a life that’s more and more painHe won’t take any prescription or over-theFDA boxed warning did not significantfree. The good days outweigh the bad.” counter medications, not even Tylenol, and
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The Detroit Mountain Alpine Racing Team celebrated a strong racing season in 2019, and hope for similar success in the 2020 competitive season, which started in January. (Submitted Photo)
Learning the slopes Kids in Detroit Mountain’s fast-growing alpine racing program ‘live and breathe’ skiing BY VICKI GERDES | VGERDES@DLNEWSPAPERS.COM
he alpine ski racing program at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area is thriving. Now in its fifth year and open to local youth between the ages of 6 and 18, the program has grown from a membership of just 16 kids to more than 116, according to Alpine Ski Racing Head Coach Jennifer Smith. “We had about 16 to 18 kids that first year,” she recalled, adding that a lot of those early participants were the children of Detroit Mountain staff members. “The next year, we grew to about 40 kids, and it’s been steadily growing every year since.” Practices for the 2019-2020 season started Dec. 1. “We have four different program levels, which is new this year,” said Detroit Mountain Trails Boss Tony Schmitz, who is also the administrator for the alpine ski racing program. Those four levels are: Little Rippers, Rising Stars, Big Blue and Travel Team.
The first two levels are for skiers who have strong basic skiing skills but have never really raced before. They practice once a week, on Sunday afternoons. Skiers at both levels are encouraged to participate in scheduled home races, and the Rising Stars have an additional 2 or 3 race opportunities during the season. Big Blue, meanwhile, is the core development program, offering practices on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons with a focus on developing fundamental racing skills using free skiing and technical drills. Participants get an introduction to both slalom- and giant slalom-style racing, and have opportunities to race 5 or 6 times over the course of the season. The most advanced skiers are on the Travel Team, also known as the D-Team, which is designed for serious skiers who are looking for a more intensive training schedule, with practices held three times per week and 10 to 12 racing opportunities available. D-Team members take part in
two different racing leagues: The Northland Junior Race Series and the Midwest Snowsports Development League. The race season runs from January through the first week of March. Detroit Mountain is hosting two races this season; other races will be held at Afton Alps, Lutsen, Giant’s Ridge, Mount Ski Gull, Mont du Lac, Powder Ridge and Wild Mountain. The Detroit Mountain ski racing program has proved so popular, Schmitz said, that all available slots for the current season, “are pretty much filled, at all levels.” “The kids in the program advance really quickly,” he added. “It’s exciting to see the progression, especially for the kids in their fourth year.” Most of the kids in the ski racing program are at Detroit Mountain, “just about every day we’re open,” he noted. “They just live and breathe it (downhill skiing).” SKIING continued on page 14
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SKIING continued from page 13
Smith said it was her passion for ski racing that first led her to approach the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area’s management team with the idea of starting a league, at the start of the Mountain’s second skiing season. Some of the kids in the program “have absolutely fallen in love (with the sport) and can’t get enough of it,” she said. It’s open to kids of all abilities, “whether they just want a taste or they’re all in.” There is a tuition fee involved in joining the team, and participants pay for their own equipment, season passes and/or lift tickets. Scholarship opportunities are available for those in need of a little financial assistance. “We don’t want that (limited finances) to be the reason why they’re not out there,” Smith said. “We would move mountains to make sure these kids have the opportunity to be out there on the slopes.” For more information, visit www.detroitmountain.com.
The health benefits of skiing Skiing is a sport with lifelong health benefits, according to Detroit Mountain Alpine Ski Racing Head Coach Jennifer Smith — improved strength, balance, coordination, cardiovascular health and even mental health, to name just a few. Kids who ski get all those benefits in their youth, and are also establishing a taste for a fun winter activity that could help keep them healthy for the rest of their lives. “We have people out here at the Mountain skiing that are well into their 80s and 90s,” Smith said. “It’s one of those unique sports that you can continue doing for a very long time.” The ski racing program also builds social and behavioral skills in kids, as they learn the importance of volunteerism, cooperation and teamwork. Aside from developing kids’ all-around skiing skills, the program helps kids build strong friendships with their teammates while improving their self confidence. “It offers our kids the opportunity to belong to a team, but still compete as an individual,” Smith said — at the same time, however, winning is not the most important thing: The emphasis is on having fun. “We tell the kids right from the get-go that we want them to love skiing, and we want it to be fun,” Smith said. “That’s our end goal … If we can get these kids to love being outside and love skiing, we know we’ve done a great job.” “They’re really the ambassadors of the Mountain,” she added. “We want them out there helping others, being polite and kind to the other guests. You can just see it when they come into the lodge with those rosy cheeks. Some days are cold and brutal outside, but they still come in with bright smiles on their faces — and hot cocoa fixes a lot.”
Modern Insurance Services Eleni and Marlo Schmitz celebrate with Kya Smith and Ruby Maki at the Detroit Mountain alpine ski races in January 2019. (Submitted Photo)
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