Joel Reichenberger: Ski camp eye-opening

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— Rich Maziarz doesn't use a wheelchair, but he struggles mightily to get around.

He moved slowly Wednesday afternoon along the banks of Bald Eagle Lake, staring a hole in the ground in front of his feet before every step and leaning heavily on a cane the entire time.

He made his way all the way down to the dock, a labor of love that seemed so much more like labor than love ever should.

Maziarz was a different person moments later - strong, confident and skilled as he slashed through the water on a wakeboard behind a boat. Gone was the look of pain, and his face turned instead to focus and concentration as he weaved back and forth, cutting between buoys as he circled the small ski lake.

"When I walk, sometimes I trip over my own two feet," he said afterward, relaxing again under the lakeside tent and explaining just what it means to have multiple sclerosis. "It's almost like I had a stroke."

Wakeboarding, as much anything, sums up what multiple sclerosis has meant for Maziarz.

He did it Wednesday afternoon - excelled, in fact, and seemed like an entirely different person when standing on a wakeboard instead of dry ground.

"But," he said, "I used to be able to do flips out there."

It's all changed since he was diagnosed with MS more than three years ago. He since has lost a wife, a job and the use of much of the right side of his body. Yet there he was, slashing through the wake and - even if only a fraction as well as he used to - riding like anyone else.

Maziarz lives in Denver, and he said weeks like the last one, when he attended the Behind the Boat water skiing and wakeboard camp in Steamboat Springs, are tremendous.

When I showed up at the camp, I thought I understood why - the camp had to be great fun and a wonderful distraction for people who deal with so much difficulty in their daily lives.

I wasn't entirely correct, though. Spending a day with people who have disabilities was sobering, of course, and left me wondering how I'd handle such circumstances.

The best part for Maziarz, he said, is being around other people like him - people who won't question or judge him as he battles the many and varied symptoms of MS.

He finished his wakeboarding run Wednesday afternoon by letting go of the rope as he swung far outside the wake. He coasted all the way in toward the dock and the small beach area where other people with disabilities were cheering him on.

Finally on shore, Maziarz didn't go anywhere at all. Instead, he waited for someone to bring his cane, and only then did he begin the slow journey back to the tent.

I won't pretend to know what the journey was like, but one afternoon at the camp made me realize there's a lot more to it - and to Maziarz himself - than meets the eye.

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