Kirkwood skier earns gold medal |

Kirkwood skier earns gold medal

by Donnie Nelson

The Carson Valley has a champion it can call its own.

Ski guide Robey Lizama, from Gardnerville, recently led a California man to a gold medal at the United States Association of Blind Athletes’ Skifest and National Championships in Aspen, Colo.

Seth Clark, 25, who lives in the Bay Area, competed in the division for totally blind men and won his gold medal in the giant slalom. Clark and Robey, 47, represent Discovery Blind Sports of Kirkwood.

About two dozen of the nation’s best visually impaired ski racers gathered in Aspen during the first week of February to improve their competitive racing skills and meet fellow blind skiers. The event was co-sponsored by Challenge Aspen, a recreational program for all physical disabilities, and organized by Brian Santos, a partially sighted world champion skier.

Clark has been trained by and racing with Robey, a part-time instructor and full-time groomer at Kirkwood. Robey, along with Nancy Andrews, has been instrumental in getting the resort’s Discovery ski program up and running again.

Robey started with Kirkwood as a laborer, helping build the resort, in 1972. He began as a guide for the blind in 1986 and now also teaches kids how to ski.

Robey, one of the top racing guides in the country, started working with Clark in 1991. The two started training together every weekend that winter in preparation for the 1992 Para-Olympics, but a leg injury to Robey kept the duo out of action that season. But, they didn’t give up on their dream, and last week’s win at the national championship was a fitting end to a strong relationship.

“He had a guide he was breaking up with and we had known each other from the past so it naturally was kind of a marriage,” Robey said. “I’m the eyes. It’s 50-50. I wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t talent (to work with).”

Robey is a free-agent now and starting work with Lori Miller, an Indiana woman in her early 20s who also took first place in the giant slalom at nationals. Robey will continue to work with Clark, but the California man doesn’t like to travel overseas and that is required in order to compete at the world championship level.

There are three classifications for blind skiers: high partial, low partial and totally blind. There is also a qualification process through which elite competitors have to pass through to get to the big events.

Robey and Miller will leave Tuesday to compete in the Columbia Crest Cup at Winter Park, Colo. (Feb. 19-22), which is basically the first qualification step toward earning a berth in the 2002 Para-Olympics in Utah. The duo plans to compete in four races — two super G’s, a giant slalom and a slalom.

The duo hasn’t worked together very often before, so it will be more of a learn-on-the-fly experience. However, Miller is considering moving to the Kirkwood area to train on a regular basis with Robey.

Robey believes he could have made it to Nagano, Japan (1998 Para-Olympics) with his recent national champion partner, but the two didn’t even formulate a plan to get through the qualification process and try for the Games.

Robey and Miller then plan to compete in the Disabled Sports of America National Championships at Mt. Bachelor, Ore. in the middle of March. There, skiers of all disabilities will compete against each other with certain time elements factored in to create an equal playing field.

Robey’s future plans include the European Championships in Slovakia next winter, the World Championships in 2000, the European Championships again in 2001 and the Para-Olympics in 2002. Of course, there are also local and national events to compete in and qualify through along the way.

Robey said most of the competitive blind skiers are between the age of 18 and 25. The conditions and non-visual factor can be difficult to overcome for any blind skier, as they were for Clark at the national championship when four inches of new snow fell during the day. Robey, who said he doesn’t have enough time to pursue a competitive racing schedule on his own, likes to ski in front of his partners.

Robey is the chairman of guides for the Discovery Program. The program doesn’t have many competitive ski racers right now, but the number is gradually starting to grow. It will hold a silent auction Mar. 14 as a fundraiser.

Kirkwood, and Tim Cohee in particular, has been a major sponsor of the program, according to Robey.

“We actually are very well recognized organization, particularly for the blind,” Robey said. “There are many programs around the nation that focus on all disabilities, but ours and one in Vail, Colo. are good for the blind.

“Blind people don’t get the opportunity to go fast and feel the wind in their hair and travel,” Robey said.

The Discovery Program is always looking for volunteers who would like to be guides or support the staff. It is also always looking for financial donations. For more information, call Nancy Andrews at 265-6164.

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