Local skier overcomes challenges to represent United States

Melinda Hollands is preparing to represent The United States in Norway.

(WPBN/WGTU) -- Finding good cross country skiing snow this winter hasn't been easy for any of us. With our thaws and warm weather, it's been awfully hard for us to look out and see those fresh powder trails.

But for Melinda Hollands it's been even a little more challenging. Hollands was 7 years old when she was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease, a rare condition that impacts vision. Over the years she has experienced dramatic changes in what she is able to see. As she describes it, "I have blind spots in my retina, things are missing right in the center of my field of vision. it's sort of like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of pieces missing out of the center."

With limited sight, cross country skiing might seem like an out of the ordinary sports for her to pursue. "I have had people say jokingly "oh are you going skiing?" she says "They mean that as a joke "of course you can't" and I say smugly "yes I am because yes I can." The truth is the Traverse City mother can do just about anything she puts her mind to. Several years ago, the thing she put her mind to was cross country skiing.

"A ski instructor once told me you should use your feet and your skis like you use your fingers when you read braille" Melinda explains. Instead of her eyes, she relies on feedback from her feet to feel the course. Typically, she also has a guide skiing beside her to help with anything unexpected like fallen trees, other skiers, or even a change in terrain like hills and curves.

Melinda's first competitive event was a Ski for Life event hosted at Shanty Creek Resort in Antrim County. Instantly, she says she was hooked. She became more involved with the organization that provides opportunities for athletes like herself. She knew she was making a difference in the lives of others. What she couldn't possible know was where her skiing and her enthusiasm would take her next.

This winter, Melinda found out that she was one of two skiers in the entire country chosen to represent The United States at the Rittedderren event in Norway in late March. It's a week-long event held every year. Skiers from all over the world flock to a tiny village in Norway to take part in a series of cross country skiing events. Melinda says while she is excited about skiing some new terrain, what she is most looking forward to is experiencing such an amazing event with hundreds of other athletes.

If you would like to learn more about Ski to Life, either as a potential skier or as volunteer guide click here.

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