Champion Skier on the Harvard Course

"She wanted to gain the respect of her peers by being able to do something good," Zabelski says. "I wanted to develop a relationship that was unique to me and Cara."

While the two developed their won unique relationship, they were also busy developing a unique style of skiing. Previously, visually impaired skiers had been guided down the slopes by a coach who would stand behind and shout out precise maneuvering instructions.

Zebelski quickly gained a distaste for this method, and he and Dunne pioneered a controversial style by which he would ski in front of her, so she could hear and feel his turns, rather than simply try to follow a set of spoken instructions.

Dunne admits that her initial attempt at racing at age nine, was not exactly silver medal quality. "I heard the timekeeper cheer, and I crashed into him," she recalls of her debut in Wisconsin.

Her technique kept improving, however, and with the help of a change in attitude among those running her sport, she got the break that she calls a turning point in her life. In 1982, organizers of the disabled ski championships in Colorado decided to allow visually impaired skiers to take part in the competition for the first time.


But the 11-year-old Dunne did not exactly jump at the chance. After winning a major domestic event, she knew she was in the running to represent the U.S. in the world championship. But more than anything else, she was nervous.

"They picked me and I cried," she says. "Everyone thought I was crying because I was really happy, but I was crying because I was scared."

After her success in the 1982 championship, local newspapers and television stations became in- terested in her story, tracking her down atschool to hear it. The result, Dunne recalls,could not have been better for her.

"Suddenly, all the kids who didn't know how toregard me were, you know.." she says, her voicetrailing off. "Things just changed, and it was themost wonderful thing."

Besides enjoying an unparalleled record ofsuccess in her sport-she was the only visuallyimpaired skier to win a medal at the disabledskiing Olympic in 1988--Dunne also foundcompanionship off the slopes. Dunne has enjoyed,she says, a great deal of camaraderie with some ofthe other skiers, something that has at leastpartly made up for the lack of a "normal"childhood due to her intense training.

Case in point: when Dunne was feeling down forspending her birthday on a Colorado slope duringthe 1982 world championships, her teammates cameto the rescue. After the competition, athletesfrom many different sports attended a surprisebirthday party, lavishing her with present.

"That's not to say that Dunne has been treatedas an equal in every respect. After all, thepre-teenager was hobnobbing with a group whoseyoungest member was more than twenty-years-old.

"I had a teammate who said, 'Cara, if I win,you'll buy me a beer. If you win, I'll buy you aglass of milk," Dunne says, explaining, "Theystill treat me like I'm a little kid."

Another fortunate activity has stemmed fromDunne's skiing expertise--she has been able tohelp others with visual impairments to at leasttry to achieve the success she has enjoyed.

Last year, Dunne assembled a team of noted skiinstructors--including a former Olympic goldmedalist--in Utah to learn how to teach thevisually impaired to ski. Blindfolding theinstructors, Dunne had them led down the slope byan instructor who could see, to give them anappreciation for what it is like for the visuallyimpaired to ski.

The instructors "did pretty well," but just asimportantly, Dunne says, the session represented"a good way to teach normal people who rely a loton their visual senses."