This article was written by Oliver Hansen, a Senior in the Journalism class, here at U-32.
When Otis Loga first joined the U-32 cross country ski team, he struggled with skiing because of his cerebral palsy. It was difficult for him to balance and stand up. He could not skate ski; and classic striding was challenging for him as well. “Nordic skiing is super hard,” Andrew Tripp, Loga’s coach, said, “But to do it with only partial control and strengthening of your left leg… I mean, I don’t know how he did it.”
After his sophomore ski season, Loga made the decision to not ski his junior year and instead run during the winter. “I was tired of falling down, even on the flats,” Loga said, “I was tired of crashing all the time.”
After a cross country race at Craftsbury Outdoors Center last fall, U-32’s coach brought him to an open house where people could test adaptive ski setups. Loga was able to test what is called a sit-ski, a setup where he sits in a carbon fiber seat that is connected to a pair of skis.
Afterward, he put his name down on an email list. “We followed up with the US Para program and they sent him a sit-ski. At first he was like, “Well, I’m just gonna try it and see what I think,” Tripp said, “And he tried it and he started to like it.”
Loga changed his mind, he would be joining the U32 nordic skiing team again during the upcoming winter.
When the season started, Loga was using his sit-ski and was very happy with his choice. “With sitting, it’s easier to get up, and it’s easier to keep my balance,” Loga said.
For the first half of the season, at races, Loga would have a separate course and start time than the rest of the competitors. This frustrated Loga, all he wanted was to race on the same course at the same time as the rest of the competitors. “I might be shorter than you,” he said, “but I can do the same course as you.”
Towards the end of the season, Loga got an email from the U.S. Para Olympic team inviting him to a training camp in Sun Valley Idaho which Loga quickly and excitingly accepted.
Loga spent a week in Idaho training with the U.S. Paralympic Team, doing a workout in the mornings and a distance ski in the afternoons. There were three coaches, and along with the guidance of para Olympians, Loga learned many new tricks and maneuvers, allowing him to maximize the potential of sit-skiing.
While the Paralympics were taking place shortly after Loga returned, he made sure to watch as many ski races as possible. “I look on the TV and I’m like, oh, I ate breakfast with you, or I high fived you and now you are at the Paralympics.”
As the season came to an end, Loga finally got to race on the same course as the rest of the field. The classic state championship race was held at the Craftsbury Outdoors Center on a very hilly course, but that did not deter Loga. He raced two laps, going around one hill rather than up it, but in the end the same distance as everyone else.
As he reached the crest of the last hill and started descending into the finishing straight, spectators and racers alike crowded along the course, cheering Loga on. “It felt like actually my very first real race because I did everything,” Loga said, “I was still slow, but it was nice because I got the whole homestretch to myself.
Loga’s season didn’t stop after the State Championship though, Loga made the four-hour trip to Titcomb Mountain in Farmington Maine along with 48 of the other top skiers from Vermont to compete against the best from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, the Midwest, and the Great Lakes to take part in the 2022 NENSA Eastern High School Championships.
Loga was the only competitor using an adaptive skiing setup. He raced in his own adaptive category and had his own course. He was the first adaptive skier in VT high school sports history and the first adaptive skier at the NENSA Eastern High School Championships.
Next year Loga plans on continuing to sit-ski and will also be a team captain. Loga and Tripp are both excited to see how much Loga can improve and how far he can go with sit-skiing. “I’ve joked with him, that we have a tradition on our team, which is that when kids go on and run in college or ski in college, I ask them to send us a t-shirt or garment from the program,” Tripp said, “I told Otis when he’s on the US Para team he’s got to send me some swag.”