Designing Success through Service

April 11, 2017

Duane Anderson with one of his Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School students at Alyeska Resort.

Duane Anderson, PE is R&M’s Group Manager of Structural Engineering, and has been with the firm since 1975. Amongst other passions, Duane is an avid skier and enjoys giving back to the community. He found a way to combine these aspects and turn his passion for skiing into a long-term relationship with a local non-profit who strives to build confidence, security and an infrastructure of support to improve mobility and overall health.

For the past 22 years, Duane and his wife Nancy have spent their Saturdays volunteering as instructors at the Challenge Alaska Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School at Alyeska Resort. Challenge Alaska is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for people with physical and developmental disabilities, their families and the whole community through adaptive sports, therapeutic recreation and education.

The adaptive ski and snowboard school is a seven-day a week program staffed by four full-time employees, and throughout the season, will draw upon up to 200 volunteer instructors. Participants include blind skiers and those with developmental disabilities. At the beginning of each season, Duane is one of six-to-eight trainers working with Challenge Alaska staff to train volunteer instructors the basics of ski instruction, approaches to working with participants and training on some of the adaptive equipment. After the training period, he teaches program participants to ski using adaptive equipment, such as mono sit-skis, bi-skis and sliders (essentially a walker with skis).

“I’m pretty passionate about skiing and feel it can add joy to anyone’s life, particularly the life of someone that may not have ever imagined the possibility, either due to physical or developmental disability,” says Duane. “Challenge Alaska does not focus on disabilities, but looks at other abilities. By using adaptive equipment, we can get mobility impaired people on the mountain.”

How did you get involved with Challenge Alaska?

Nancy Anderson teaching a student of the Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School at Alyeska Resort

Truthfully, I don’t recall the specific circumstances. In the fall of 1995, Challenge was commemorating their new building on Alyeska. We, my wife Nancy and I, were involved with the program, heard about the occasion and decided to check it out. At that time, we were avid skiers and looked at it as an opportunity to get involved as a volunteer in a community support program and spend more time on the slopes.

What do you enjoy about being involved?

Skiing can be a life-long sport, something that can be enjoyed by two-year-olds and 80-year-olds. I enjoy exposing participants that have never tried skiing to the thrill of it, the thrill of sliding on snow. With gravity in your favor, you don’t have to be a super athlete to enjoy it. It can involve a significant learning curve, but it is a fun and rewarding journey. Like many things, the better you get the more fun it is, and like anything else, you’ll never be as good as you want to be.

Setting student goals and working towards achievement is rewarding for the participants and myself. Seeing lots of smiles on participants and parents is a great reward too.

I volunteer on weekends, where many participants are “regulars.” Some families have been participating for years. One family said it is the one place they can go, be totally accepted, not be stared at and be, more or less, like everyone else. Wow, did you ever think about life like that? Most of us are so lucky.

What’s your favorite part of the volunteer work?

One of our past students, Andrew Kurka, recently competed in the World Championships in Italy, winning a gold medal in sit-ski downhill, silver in Giant Slalom and bronze in Super G. Challenge Alaska and its volunteer staff were supportive in that effort. Andrew was introduced to the mono sit-ski at Challenge Alaska in 2007 or 2008. So 10 years from beginner to World Champion, wow, but Andrew is the exception. He is a true athlete and competitor.

While that is some measure of success, luckily most folks have a much lower bar for achieving success. Seeing those folks achieve their goals, little by little, gives one a great feeling. It can be something as simple as making their first turns, graduating from the magic carpet to Chair 3, from Chair 3 to Chair 4 and so on.

Also, as I noted earlier, Challenge Alaska on the weekends is more of a family affair. Most Saturdays resemble a big family get together where there will be up to 20 students with 20-to-30 volunteer instructors. Usually, parents will rotate bringing a huge pot of soup for all to enjoy. Morning lesson is over and lunch break is at 12:30 to 1:30, where all refuel and talk about the mornings achievements, before moving on to the afternoon lesson. For me, it’s been a great way to spend a Saturday, yikes, going on 22 years now!

It’s easy for me. Since my wife participates, we don’t have any kids, and neither of us find much enjoyment in TV sports….now I’m wondering what I would do without Challenge Alaska!

Learn more about Challenge Alaska and how you can get involved.

Duane R&M’s Group Manager of Structural Engineering. He has been a member of the R&M team since 1975, and since that time has accumulated an incredible portfolio of Alaskan structural experience. His experience is varied and diverse, but has largely been focused on structural engineering aspects of waterfront, bridge, military, utility and school projects throughout Alaska. Duane is a strong team leader and works collaboratively across other disciplines on multi-discipline projects. He holds a MBA from the University of Alaska Anchorage and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is an active member of the Structural Engineers Association of Alaska and the American Institute of Steel Construction. Duane was recognized in 2016 as a Fellow by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and was also ASCE’s nominee for Engineer-of-the-Year earlier this year.