The story of how Sue Ehrhardt lost her leg in a water skiing accident has drama, pathos and an inspiring ending. But the story that Sue and her husband, Ross, would rather tell is the one that unfolded afterward, because that one has no ending at all.
In 1977, Sue fell while water skiing off Coronado. The ski boat backed over her, severing her left leg at the hip. Five years later, she saw a young man gliding down a snowy Durango, Colo., ski slope on one leg, and she asked him to teach her how to ski. The experience was so life-changing, Ross convinced the members of his Kiwanis club to pay for other disabled people to get adaptive skiing lessons, too.
A few years later, an artist friend suggested holding a little arts festival to help the Kiwanis raise money to send even more people to Durango. And that is the story of how the 26-year-old La Jolla Festival of the Arts came to be, and how the lives of so many disabled San Diegans came to be changed by the programs it helps support.
“It opens your eyes to so many other possibilities,” Sue said of the mind-expanding properties of that first adaptive skiing experience. “I felt like I was just like everybody else and I would be as happy as everybody else. I felt like I could live a full life with no excuses.”
The first time the Torrey Pines Kiwanis Club Scholarship Ski Program sponsored a trip to Durango’s Adaptive Ski School, Ross Ehrhardt and his fellow club members raised enough money selling See’s Candies to send a party of four. Over 30 years, the club has sent more than 500 students to Durango, where they are treated to a five-day trip that includes lodging, meals, equipment, plane tickets and full-time adaptive ski instruction.
Since 1987, the Torrey Pines Kiwanis-produced La Jolla Festival of the Arts has raised more than $1.7 million for local adaptive-sports and recreation programs that have served about 40,000 disabled San Diegans. The list of this year’s beneficiaries features more organizations providing everything from golf and therapeutic horseback riding to junior wheelchair sports camp and wheelchair rugby.