Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I met Hal O'Leary at Winterpark, Colorado in the winter of 1977 when I drove into town with Brien O'Keeney in his red TR7. We drove cross country from our winter rental beach house in Ocean City and had made stops in Pittsburgh to visit Marc Connally and in Boulder to visit Marc's sister Mary, and then headed into the Rockies.
Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" was playing on the radio, which mentions the Rockies, as we drove past the original Hard Rock Cafe and then turned off the highway and through Beaver Pass to get to Winterpark, a major ski area.
Brian pulled into a spot that was reserved for the handicapped and there, on the first door it read: Handicap Ski Office - Hal O'Leary.
Brien had come to America from Ireland with a friend, John Hassen, and they worked as house painters in Ocean City for awhile until one day when Brien was riding his motorcycle to work and an old man pulled out in front of him and hit him hard. He went down with his head hitting the sidewalk and putting a big crack in his helmet but it was his leg that was damaged. They didn't amputate right away and it got worse, and eventually they took it off, and he now walks with slight limp with a false leg prothesis.
I followed Brien in and we met Hal, who asked Brien if he was AK or BK - which means an above the knee amputee or below the knee amputee, and Brian said AK.
"Want to ski?" Hal asked.
Right now? Brien wanted to know.
Yea, right now, said O'Leary.
He handed Brien two outrigges and told him to go into the locker room and take off his prothesis, as he wouldn't need it to ski.
In the locker room Brien met another handicap skier, who was a double AK, double amputee above the knee, a Vietnam war vet who had stepped on a land mine.
Within the hour, Brien and Hal O'Leary were on the lift going up to the highest point on the mountain and they skied down together. While Hal is a normie, like me, he invented the three-track ski with two outriggers so one legged people can ski.
I waited for them at the bottom of the mountain and when they skiied up to me Brien had the biggest smile on his face that you wouldn't believe.
We ended up staying at Winterpark for awhile, and then returning after a trip to California, and spent St. Patrick's Day there, when the locals ski down the hill for the last time naked and end up in a big pool of water at the bottom of the hill.
We went back the next year, and learned that the International Handicap Ski Tournament was going to be held at Braniff, Calgary Canada, and with nothing else to do, drove up there for the tournament and met handicap skiers from all over the world.
Then the following year, while we were at Aspin, Brien was skiing Aspin Mountain when he came across another handicap skiier whose outrigger had broke - a young 17 year old Irish American, and helped him down the mountain. Teddy Kennedy had lost a leg to cancer, but that didn't stop him from skiing, and he wanted to know how Brien could shift gears in his TR7 with one leg. Brien showed him, and also showed him how to make a 160 degree in lane turn using the handbreak. That got the attention of the Aspin sheriff's deputies, who just said that we were on their radar and not to act up.
Teddy then met us at Winterpark one season and also met Hal O'Leary, a legend to all handicap skiers, and author of the book on handicap skiing.
He has also been recognized by Canada with a rightly deserved achievements award.