2012-09-07 / Front Page

‘Rant’ inspires others to help

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Maine State Troopers Association President Mike Edes drops off a bag of returnables at Thatcher’s Restaurant in South Portland at a fundraiser to send Maine Paralympic skier Lindsay Ball to the Sochi games in 2014. (Jack Flagler photo) Maine State Troopers Association President Mike Edes drops off a bag of returnables at Thatcher’s Restaurant in South Portland at a fundraiser to send Maine Paralympic skier Lindsay Ball to the Sochi games in 2014. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – The 2012 Paralympics are in full swing in London, as physically disabled athletes from around the world compete in events from wheelchair basketball to judo.

Back home in South Portland, Paralympian alpine skier Lindsay Ball already has her mind set on the ski slopes of Sochi, Russia, where the Paralympics will be held in March 2014.

But Ball can’t get to Sochi alone. The visually impaired skier communicates with a guide, Diane Barras of Maine Adaptive Sports, to navigate the slopes in her races. And on Wednesday, Aug. 29, dozens of family members, friends and people who had never met Ball before came to a bottle drive at Thatcher’s Restaurant in South Portland to help the skier achieve her goal of competing in the Paralympics.


When Lindsay Ball, left, skies, her guide Diane Barras, who calls out commands on the slope that Ball has to follow exactly and immediately. The two leave for Chile on Sept. 9 to begin training for the games. (Jack Flagler photo) When Lindsay Ball, left, skies, her guide Diane Barras, who calls out commands on the slope that Ball has to follow exactly and immediately. The two leave for Chile on Sept. 9 to begin training for the games. (Jack Flagler photo) The bottle drive was organized by Jim Fahey, a South Portland police officer and Westbrook resident who never met Ball until the evening of the event. Fahey works as a disc jockey at Thatcher’s on Friday nights, and each Halloween he also volunteers at a dance to benefit a local charity.

This year, Ball’s aunt, Thatcher’s employee Janet Krch suggested the dance benefit her niece’s effort to make the Paralympics. Fahey agreed, and started collecting bottles to get a head start on the donations.

A few weeks ago, Fahey moved those bottles outside the front door of his house as a reminder to bring them to the redemption center after work. When he returned, the bottles were gone. Fahey said his wife had no idea what happened to them, and, after determining that they we’re stolen, Fahey took to Facebook.

“I said ‘Hey, to the idiots who stole the bottles out of my driveway, let me know how much you got for them. They were for charity.’ And I left it at that,” Fahey said. “I’ve got 1,100 friends all coming back and commenting saying ‘Jim that’s wrong. I’ve got a bag, I’ve got five bags, you can have them.’”

After so many of his friends offered bottles or checks in support, Fahey decided to put together an event at Thatcher’s.

“I don’t want (the bottles) all over at my house, and I can’t pick them all up. But if you guys give me a couple days, I can put together a one-night thing.”

With the help of Thatcher’s owner Cindy Boulay and some local media publicity from Chuck Igo of the radio station Big Hits Y100.9 and Greg Lagerquist of local CBS affiliate WGME 13, Fahey set up the event.

Fahey said he had about $70 worth of bottles in his driveway, and the bottle drive far surpassed what the bottle thieves had taken.

“I am amazed by the amount of bottles or money people are donating,” said Krch just after collecting a $100 bill donated by the Gorham Fire Department. “People are really coming out of the woodwork and they’re more than generous.”

Fahey said he could have tracked down the people who took the bottles. He suspects they collected the receipts at one of three redemption centers in Westbrook. But, he said, the thieves actually ended up doing him a favor.

“Truly, honestly if I could find the guys who took it I wouldn’t prosecute. I’d say ‘Hey thanks. You made it bigger,’” Fahey said.

Donations are still coming in even after the event; to date Fahey estimates about $2,000 has been raised through checks, cash and bottle donations for Ball’s effort to make the Paralympics. That’s a great start, and would almost cover the cost of plane tickets to Sochi for Ball and Barras, but Ball said she has no idea how much she’ll ultimately need to compete in 2014.

The flight to Russia is just the beginning of Ball’s expenses. There are also flights to Europe in the years that lead up to the games for World Cup and qualifying matches. She needs specific equipment to meet International Paralympic guidelines, and all the costs are doubled because Barras accompanies Ball to each destination. Ball said the total cost could come close to $50,000 over the next year and a half.

Some of that cost will be handled by sponsors and the International Paralympic Committee, but not all of it.

The selection criteria on the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing website explains, “Team status does not guarantee funding for the entire season. Funding will be based on continued progress towards individual goals.”

Ball’s first trip in preparation for the 2014 games will be to Chile. She plans to leave on Sept. 9 with Barras to train for two weeks before returning to Maine and continuing classes at the University of Maine- Farmington, where she is entering her junior year.

Ball was born with a vision impairment that allowed her to only see vague shades of light and dark, shapes and shadows, but no details. When she was 6 years old, growing up in Benton, she started skiing with a guide.

A few years ago, Ball said she started working with Barras, and things clicked.

“For me personally, I’ve had the best relationship with her as my guide. It’s hard for me to ski with other people now because I have so much built-in trust with her that I’m more hesitant with other people,” Ball said.

That doesn’t mean other guides are necessarily better or worse at what they do, Barras said, but since so much of skiing with a visual impairment depends on the communication between guide and skier, the communication and trust are incredibly important.

“There’s something about what we have that works really well,” Barras said.

When Ball skies in an event, Barras calls commands into a microphone from her helmet that is attached to a speaker system Barras wears on her back. Ball follows the commands, and can communicate privately with Barras through her own headset, although Barras can’t respond to Ball privately. Barras said while many Paralympic skiers work on their technique on the slopes, she and Ball mostly work on communication.

“She has to trust that I’m going to give her the right command and I have to trust that she’s going to do it,” Barras said.

When she makes it to Sochi, Ball will need Barras’s help to compete. But on Wednesday, she found help from a more unlikely source, a self-described “sarcastic” South Portland police officer whose Internet rant turned into nearly $2,000 of donations.

“Every so often something renews your faith, you know,” Jim Fahey said.

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