While highlighting the triumphs, talents and success stories of National Ability Center participants and partners, we are taking a look into our staff that make our programs possible year-round. Meet Devon Keir.
Devon was a former NAC intern turned ski instructor, universal-staff member, and overall outdoor recreation lover. Find out a bit more about Devon and what the NAC employee life is all about.
Devon Keir, 25, New York Native
Q: Devon, what brought you to Utah?
I majored in Therapeutic Recreation at SUNY Cortland and came out for an internship … about halfway through I called my folks and told them I was never coming home. I’ve been here ever since!
Q: Adaptive Recreation is an incredible industry. If you were asked to describe it in your own words, what would you say?
It’s pure love for the sport, creativity, and a whole lot of duct tape.
Q: What drew you to adaptive recreation and the National Ability Center?
So I was drawn to adaptive recreation without even knowing it; I danced at this incredible dance studio back home since I was three years old and Mrs. G (the owner and teacher) felt that everyone who wanted to dance should be able to. And that’s just how it was; if you had Down Syndrome or Muscular Dystrophy or just couldn’t sit still and listen to directions, it didn’t matter as long as you loved to dance. She knew that as long as you had passion, the skills would follow in their own time. It was the most natural thing—it never even occurred to us that what she was doing wasn’t how everyone else did it.
When I arrived to the National Ability Center, it just felt like home, I guess. Here was another place where, as long as you were passionate about your sport, you belonged.
Q: What is your favorite part about the NAC winter season?
I love working with the same students year after year. It’s incredible to see how much they progress between seasons and you really get the opportunity to get to know the student and family on a whole other level.
Q: How does someone get involved in adaptive ski instructing at the National Ability Center?
The biggest thing is being passionate about working with others and having the creativity to adapt lessons and teaching styles to meet your student’s specific needs. Other than that, we just need you to be a proficient skier/snowboarder and send us your application! We need hundreds of volunteers to get our lessons out the door, so we are always looking for volunteers! Even if you don’t ski or snowboard we’ve got a spot for you!
Q: What is your biggest accomplishment so far working at the National Ability Center?
I became the head coach for Team Flyers, which is a holistic approach to sport for athletes with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. Just last year, we launched the first freestyle ski and snowboard team ever at the National Ability Center for athletes with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. I don’t think I’ll ever beat the moment I watched them all go over a box for the first time. That’s when everything switched from “I hope this works” to “this is seriously happening, and it’s amazing”.
Q: Did you have experience in adaptive ski instructing before you started at the National Ability Center?
Definitely not. Luckily, I picked it up fast and had some people who really believed in me that were willing to give me a chance and help me grow in teaching adaptive ski and snowboard lessons.
Q: One of the biggest partnerships the National Ability Center is with Vail Resorts at Park City Mountain. Can you help explain why?
The National Ability Center and my job would be an entirely different world without their partnership at this point. The grants we receive through EpicPromise provide us with all of the tickets and support we need to put lessons out the door, they let us have some prime real estate for our Mountain Center which helps with our students and the accessibility to get on snow, and the support of all Vail staff around the mountain (from ski patrol to lift ops) just creates this incredible atmosphere for us to work in. Their partnership helps us thrive on the mountain and off—it’s so cool to see how much Vail believes in our mission and supports us year-round.
Q: What is the most important thing you have learned at the National Ability Center as an instructor?
You can try literally everything. There’s no such thing as a dumb idea; sometimes the craziest things work out and you get this huge breakthrough with the group or participant.
Q: Give us a few fun things that come from working at the National Ability Center as an ski instructor when you’re off the snow?
I get to work with all of my best friends… how many places do you go where the stoke is at 100 all day, every day and you never get sick of each other? And, it’s this cool mix of 20-somethings who are just getting into instructing to weekend warriors, to retirees who’ve been living and working in ski towns their whole life and can’t stand to give it up yet. We spend literally our entire winter together, from working to epic powder days to hanging out after work.
Q: We all know if can get chilly out on the slopes, what are you go to tools and tricks to keep warm on a full day of instructing?
Pocket snacks. And hand warmers … Lots of hand warmers.
Q: What would you tell other instructors in the field about pursuing a job at the National Ability Center during ski season?
Go for it. Whether you’ve been instructing for one year or twenty, this is a whole new challenge. It’s a blast and incredibly rewarding. Nothing will get you stoked quite as much as watching a kid, who is always being told they can’t do something, run in at the end of the day yelling “Mom! Dad! I was skiing!”
Q: Since you work year-round in NAC programs, I am not going to ask what you do during your “off season”– but can you give us insight to what you do outside of work?
I love tackling the next challenge. Since moving here, I’ve learned to rock climb, snowboard, and mountain bike. I’m currently planning my next big adventure: hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this upcoming summer!
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I know the National Ability Center will always fit into my plans, but I’m hoping I can tap back into my “other life” and get back toworking as an EMT on an ambulance as well. Who knows. 10 years is a long time from now. If I can look at it and say that I’m still having just as much fun and I’m doing what I love, I’ll be in a good spot.
If you or any of your friends are looking to join the crew, and spend time with people like Devon and our staff. Don’t forget to check out our employment or volunteer pages! We’d love to have more people join the party!