Some people believe in setting goals and keeping their eyes on the prize until they get where they want to be. Others are easily discouraged or simply lose interest and drop out along the way.

Elenda Flores is a believer.

This dynamic 18-year-old girl with an ambulatory disability is working toward a degree in Child Development at Santa Monica College. She is also a star pupil on the ski slopes of Southern California’s Bear Mountain Resort in Big Bear—and getting better all the time.

Teacher knows best

That’s the word from Ray LoCascio, a volunteer at Bear Mountain’s United States Adaptive Recreation Center. He should know. Now in his 16th year as a skiing teacher at the center, he started working with Elenda soon after she signed up for lessons.

Elenda discovered USARC at the age of 12, while on a winter visit with a group from Orthopedic Hospital of Los Angeles. It was love at first sight.

As Elenda remembers it, “I was with a pretty big group, and all of them had been here before, so they knew what to expect. I was a little nervous, but when we arrived, everyone was so nice that they put me at ease right away even though this was my first time away from Los Angeles.”

 Down memory lane

Ray LoCascio remembers the early days, too. “When we first met I was very impressed by Elenda’s enthusiastic response to the idea of learning to ski. She saw this as a chance to experience something totally new and different. Elenda is an adventurous lady.”

One of her latest adventures is a change from a  “biski” sit ski with two skis attached to the seat of a single-ski “mono-ski” of the same basic design. “The mono gives me more freedom to explore the mountain. That feeling of freedom is why I enjoy skiing so much and why I come back to this place every winter,” she explained. Plenty of others also return annually for snowboarding as well as skiing.

Elenda is a summer time regular as well. That’s when the focus is on Big Bear Lake “and I get to explore almost the whole lake,” she stated. She covers the lake via jet and wild water skis. The rest of the summer offerings are kayaking, sailing, fishing and camping.

A popular haven

 Elenda’s passionately positive outlook and love of the outdoors reflects the general attitude among the hundreds of disabled children and adults who flock to these seasonal fun spots annually.

Countless groups of excited kids and adults stream in from Southern California’s schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and parks. Specialized healthcare facilities and service organizations are also well represented.

This very small sampling of past visiting groups illustrates the widespread appeal of these programs: Orthopedic Hospital of Los Angeles, Redlands Unified School District, Braille Institute of Anaheim, Orange County Special Olympics, San Diego Veterans Administration Hospital and Poway USD Visually Impaired Program.

Growing up

USARC has grown steadily since its founding in 1983. In those days it provided disabled skiers access to the sport. Nothing more. By 1989 it had become Southern California’s first full time on-site adaptive ski school, operating from January 10 to March 18. The July-August summer program was introduced four years later.

Today this Big Bear facility is recognized nationally and internationally as a model for adaptive outdoor recreation. As a result, its personnel have been welcome additions to training programs throughout the U.S. and the world.

The accolades are well deserved thanks in large part to a corps of expert, experienced volunteer instructors. To maintain their high performance standards, they attend training clinics conducted by USARC’s staff members and other specialists. The clinics are held prior to the start of the summer and winter seasons and designed to sharpen instructors’ skills and familiarize them with any innovations that might maximize their effectiveness.

Sweet success

According to the organization’s statement of principle, the success at Big Bear stems from USARC’s conviction that “people are empowered when they undertake and succeed at challenging outdoor recreation.” In addition, “after learning new skills and redefining their abilities, participants are able to feel the freedom of recreating with their families and friends. These experiences often result in increased self-confidence and greater success when facing academic, professional and personal life challenges.”

For Elenda Flores, that statement is a road map to the future. A future that includes plans to earn a degree in art, complementing her degree in Child Development. “My ultimate goal is to open an art studio for children. I like to use clay in my art. I’m into claymation right now,” she added. (Claymation involves the creation of clay figures that tell a story through animation.)

A recent issue of The Spirit, USARC’s newsletter, carries an interview that describes her as “a die-hard for the experiences offered by USARC, and she comes back year after year and just keeps getting better and better.

She is an ideal representation of the transformative programs at USARC.” And, we might add, an ideal example of someone headed straight for success.

There are plenty of success stories at this much-admired outdoor recreation center. And you can be part of it all. For details visit