Founder of National Sports Center for People with Disabilities dies at 94

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) – Disabled sports icon Harold “Hal” Frederick O’Leary passed away 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 non-profit organizations that have changed the lives of thousands of disabled children, adults and injured military veterans.

O’Leary was born 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 to Winter Park, Colo .

In 1970, O’Leary was a ski instructor at Winter Park Resort. He volunteered to teach skiing to a group of amputee children at the Denver Children’s Hospital. This work triggered its lifelong mission to introduce sports to people with disabilities. The Winter Park program evolved into 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 has created outdoor recreation programs for families facing long-term pediatric cancer treatment.

“For over 50 years, Hal’s life has been devoted to teaching adaptive skiing and bringing freedom of movement through skiing and the joy of the mountains to those less fortunate,” said Gingery. “However, his whole soul and spirit was dedicated, above all, to bringing dignity, self-respect, self-confidence and self-esteem to the disability community around the world where and when he could.”

O’Leary has traveled the world running at least 30 adapted ski programs in more than 30 countries. He also wrote “Bold Tracks, Teaching Adaptive Skiing” and developed a program through the Professional Ski Instructors of America.

During his 50-year career, he was inducted into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Organizations such as the Amputee Coalition of America, the Colorado Tourism Board, and the Australian Disabled Skiers Foundation honored O’Leary. He has received a Golden Quill Award from the US 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 take place later this summer in Winter Park, Colorado. In lieu of flowers, her family is asking the National Sports Center for the Disabled or the Shining Stars Foundation for a donation to continue her life’s work.

Copyright 2021 KKCO. All rights reserved.


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