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Avalanche of Good: Roy Whitaker '93
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
The nationally recognized program provides adaptive sport instruction for people with disabilities. At the helm is Roy Whitaker ’93, a long-time volunteer ski instructor for the program who became executive director in January 2012. He was tapped for the post in part because of his successes as a small-business entrepreneur.
“I chose to volunteer with NEDS years ago because, in my opinion, it’s head and shoulders above other programs in its professionalism and culture,” says the former Finance major, who started and sold advertising and marketing consulting firms. “And now we’re going to take it to the next level.”
NEDS was founded 27 years ago in Lincoln, N.H., as an adaptive snow ski instruction program. Today it offers year-round training in cycling, kayaking, camping, golf, snowshoeing, snowboarding and more. Nearly 3,000 lessons are provided annually by 220 coaches and more than 400 volunteers.
Instruction is tailored for people with a range of challenges: autism, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord and brain injuries, amputated limbs. The program works especially closely with the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project.
“We visit rehab clinics and VA hospitals to tell patients about all the cool stuff we do,” explains Whitaker. “We want them to get stoked on life again and realize what they can do post-disability.”
NEDS Sports Director Geoff Krill is a living example. Left paraplegic by a spinal cord injury, Krill is one of the country’s best mono skiers. (The “sit-ski” he uses is a molded metal seat and frame positioned atop a regular alpine ski.)
“He talks to people about how fun it can be, even with a spinal cord injury,” reports Whitaker. “You can still live life!”
The alumnus spent his first year as executive director applying small-business logic to the nonprofit model, in tasks that ranged from creating standard operating procedures to building a donor management system. He is also intent on increasing fundraising, the organization’s lifeblood.
Specialized equipment makes for high costs at NEDS. An adaptive golf cart, for instance, is $10,000 – about twice the cost of an average cart; a mono ski rings up at $5,000.
Whatever the bottom line, NEDS outcomes are priceless.
“Some of our parents thought their autistic children would need attention 24/7 for the rest of their lives,” says Whitaker. “But this program has given them so much independence, they’ve advanced in ways their parents never thought they would. The culture here is magic.”
For more information, visit www.nedisabledsports.org.
In the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s Best Colleges 2017, Bentley University is ranked #3 among “Best Regional Universities - North.”