It was one of those hot summer days on Donner Lake when the water is no longer like glass, but you’re grateful for the breeze because the thermometer is pushing 100 degrees on the sand. On that day in late July, you couldn’t keep Erin Freeman out of the water. The 28-year-old Truckee woman suffers from Joubert syndrome, a neurological disorder that affects a part of the brain responsible for balance and coordination. But through the help of staff and volunteers with Disabled Sports USA, she spent the better part of the day tubing and jet skiing.

“I just really enjoy this. It gives me an opportunity to get out because I am an active person,” said Freeman, who learned to ski with Disabled Sports when she was just 8 years old.

The nonprofit organization is funded through grants and donations. One of its most popular fundraisers is happening two months earlier than usual this year. The Foam Fest, a sampling of boutique beers and rockin’ blues, will be held at Squaw Valley’s KT Sundeck outside Olympic House on Saturday, Sept. 1, from 2 to 6 p.m.


“The most important aspect of [Disabled Sports] is that it’s an integrated program,” said Paralympic medal winner Bill “Bones” Bowness, who runs the adaptive skiing instructor training program at Alpine Meadows. Disabilities can be isolating, and events such as the Donner Lake water sports weekend, held July 27 and 28, bring families together to enjoy outdoor sports, irrespective of ability.

“It might just be the two days a year some families can go and recreate together, but it might also be the springboard mechanism where families can learn to do that in a lifetime sport,” Bones said. “It’s not all concrete and sterile, but yet it’s accessible.”

Disabled Sports USA Far West was founded in Tahoe at Donner Ski Ranch in 1967 by Jim Winthers, a World War II veteran and ski school director who brought together a group of Vietnam veterans wanting to support each other. In the process, they taught themselves and others to ski.

It was a model that worked so well that the charity now serves more than 60,000 people nationwide and operates a hugely popular adaptive ski school at Alpine Meadows Ski Area. Sponsored events vary from whitewater rafting to adaptive snow skiing to a four-wheel-drive camping adventure on the scenic Rubicon Trail above Lake Tahoe. The programs rely heavily on grants and donations, including watercraft donated last month by Donner Lake Water Sports.
“It’s kind of my charity of choice,” Donner Lake Water Sports owner Rob Nishimori said. “It strikes me as the people who need it most.”

Foam Fest tickets vary from $10 for designated drivers out only for the music to $25 for a package of music plus five beer samples. (Extra samples cost $5 a pair.) In its 23rd year, the Foam Fest will feature more than 40 craft beers. Blues legend Johnny “Guitar” Knox and Ro Harpo and the Blues Busters will be getting the crowd moving throughout the afternoon. Seating will be limited, so it’s not a bad idea to bring a folding chair if you need one.

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