A 10-year-old amputee is learning how to snowboard for the very first time while accompanied by one of the best instructors in the world.
Paralympic bronze medalist Keith Gabel met Lilly Biagini, 10, on the slopes of Breckenridge, Colo., for a one-on-one snowboarding lesson last weekend.
Lilly, of California, was born with a severe joint disorder, and had both her legs amputated above the knee several years ago.
The girl and her family lost their Santa Rosa home and all their belongings when a devastating wildfire struck the region in October.
“The most important thing I lost in the fire was my legs and my wheelchair,” she said. “It was hard for the first day I knew everything in my house was gone. It was hard and it was sad, but I am glad I am here.”
With the help of The Hartford Ski Spectacular, an annual winter sport festival for people with disabilities, Lilly was able to take a private lesson with Team USA snowboarder Keith Gabel.
“My favorite part about snowboarding is getting to share my passion with people like this young lady right here,” Gabel said of Lilly. “She is such an amazing person.
Gabel had his left foot amputated after suffering an industrial accident in 2005. Having been an avid snowboarder all his life, he discovered para snowboarding and graduated to a spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team, of which The Hartford is a sponsor.
“Her story is so powerful. Lilly has inspired me in so many ways and I do feel like I can relate to her,” Gabel said. “I do know what it’s like to have tragedy. I know what it’s like to lose some of the most important things in your life and I know what it’s like to lose one of your limbs.”
Although Lilly has spent her time focusing on things she can do — like horseback riding, swimming and gymnastics — she said she is now considering becoming a para snowboarder, inspired by her test-run with Gabel.
“My first time on a snowboard — it was pretty fun,” she said. “It was exciting, fast; it was amazing. The most challenging part of snowboarding was stopping.”