ACA Member Helps Special Athletes Tap into Their Potential Through Adaptive Sports Program

By Sienna Shoup

Editor’s Note: This month, the chiropractic profession celebrates National Chiropractic Health Month with the theme Active and Adaptive, which aims to help people adapt in healthy ways to the new normal. Below is an interview with ACA member Dr. Michael Pridham, who is also helping people to adapt to their unique circumstances in a positive way through sports.  

Staying active and doing what you love is important. When faced with challenges along the way, the best thing you can do is maintain a positive attitude and adapt to the unique situations you are faced with. Thanks to new technologies, volunteers, and programs like the Adaptive Sports Program of New Mexico (ASPNM), people living with disabilities can do just that.

ASPNM is a multi-location, non-profit organization that has been around since 1985. ASPNM proudly offers a variety of therapeutic recreational activities and adaptive sports year-round to children and adults with disabilities, including skiing, snowboarding, water sports, river rafting, yoga, rock climbing and more. Some programs are open to family members and caregivers.

ACA member Michael Pridham, DC, of New Mexico (pictured with an ASPNM athlete) has been an Adaptive Sports Program volunteer instructor since 2009. Below, ACA Blogs asks Dr. Pridham about his experience with the program and the special athletes it serves.

How did you find out about ASPNM?

My physiotherapy professor at Logan University, Dr. Laney Nelson, started a collaboration with the Missouri School for the Blind. Dr. Nelson invited me to ski with him and the students one evening. We helped a man with paralysis in all four limbs to ski in a chair with skis instead of wheels. He was so happy to be flying down the mountain, and I was instantly hooked!

What motivated you to get involved?

I have often thought of how devastated that I would be if I could not ski. Helping others ski makes me feel like I am giving back to society in a very fun and positive way.

What types of disabilities does the program work with?

Athletes with all types of disabilities are represented in the program, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), cerebral palsy, chromosomal disorders, visual impairments, intellectual impairments, spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, and Muscular Dystrophy. There are also veteran-specific programs that focus on amputations, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other industry-specific disabilities.

The idea is that everyone can be included in outdoor activities such as skiing, snowboarding, water sports, yoga, archery, and mountain climbing. The instructors help each athlete with adaptive equipment, along with physical and emotional support.

What types of activities do you participate in?

I ski with students of all levels, and with all different types of disabilities. I get the most out of skiing with people with quadriplegia because it takes the most strength. These people would not be able to ski on their own, whereas those with the use of their arms can sometimes ski by themselves. I feel the most useful when I am helping people who need the most help getting up and down the mountain.

What is the training process like for volunteers?

The training program starts with an orientation a few months before the ski season. Each recruit will have a background check and will be trained on safe practices, policies and procedures.

The instructors evaluate the individual ski or snowboard level of each new volunteer. You must be able to maintain control on various terrain, so a lot of the training program is targeted to improve your own skiing skills on your skis and snowboards.

The training also teaches new volunteers how to best communicate with the students they will be helping. I quickly learned that the words that we use to teach must be changed with, for instance, those who are visually impaired. Phrases such as “Watch me!” or “See that orange cone over there?” are meaningless in those cases.

How has your education as a chiropractor helped prepare you for the program?

My education in chiropractic college helped prepare me in different ways. Understanding the pathophysiology of each condition gave me ideas of how to best adapt to each situation. A thorough understanding of biomechanics helps me to help the athletes improve their form. I am also a National Ski Patroller and the outdoor emergency training has helped me to prevent and respond to injuries that come with the territory.

What have you learned from your work with ASPNM?

I feel that I get a lot more out of the program than I put in. Every day that I have volunteered has taught me to be thankful to be alive and healthy. Working with the Adaptive Sports Program has helped me become a better chiropractic physician by giving me a much more in-depth understanding of the physical limitations of those with disabilities, while at the same time showing me the incredible determination of these athletes.

Can you tell us a story that has really stuck with you?

I took an eight-year-old nonverbal child with Autism up on the ski lift for his first time, and I heard him give an audible “Whoah!” as we went up above the mountain. His mother covered her open mouth with her hands because she had never dreamed that she would see him skiing down the mountain. She had tears in her eyes.

Does anyone ever get discouraged?

Both the athletes as well as the instructors sometimes get discouraged, and that usually means that it is time to take a break, warm up, drink some water, and have some food. Most of the time the discouragement that I see comes from an early spring melting all the snow, ultimately cutting the season short. It is hard to be discouraged on a powder day!

What is the best part about volunteering?

In addition to the athletes, the lifelong friendships that are formed with your fellow volunteer instructors are among the best parts of volunteering with the program!

How can others get involved?

I would encourage you to contact your local ski area and ask if there are opportunities to volunteer with local Adaptive Sports Programs. For more information, visit


Dr. Pridham has been an ACA member since 2008, and an Adaptive Sports Program Volunteer Instructor since 2009.