When Becky Zimmermann, CEO of the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), first watched people gliding down the slopes of Winter Park on a mono-ski guided by someone on regular skis, she was just in high school. Over the next 20-plus years, the NSCD, which provides adaptable recreational experiences to 3,000 disabled individuals in Colorado annually, wove itself into Zimmermann's busy world. This past May, she stepped away from a design career as president of Design Workshop to become the organization's CEO. I sat down with Zimmermann at her office inside Sports Authority Field at Mile High to get the rest of her story and hear her vision for the future of NSCD.
5280: What was your first official interaction with NSCD?
Becky Zimmermann: Since I started skiing in ninth grade at Winter Park/Mary Jane, I saw NSCD. I saw people out on the ski slopes on mono-skis, bi-skis, and outriggers. Later, a friend, told me I should volunteer with him. It was wonderful. I felt like I helped the people I was with, plus you give their caretaker a day of respite.
5280: Your professional career was creating master-plan designs for resorts around the world. What drew you to the professional track change?
BZ: I had reached the pinnacle of my career, and I was traveling 40-plus weeks a year. Even before the position opened, I told my husband (who still works for Design Workshop) that I would be interested in running NSCD someday. When that day came, it was the right time for a change. I have been involved with NSCD for a long time. I was a volunteer ski instructor and a volunteer with their therapeutic horse riding. The last five years I have served on the board of trustees.
5280: What do you bring from your design career to NSCD?
BZ: I really understand the impact of seasonality. We are clearly impacted by that. Winter is our peak season, we have a busy summer, then fall and spring are a little slower. We are also in the guest services business. We want to provide a wonderful experience to everyone involved—the participant, the parents, the caregiver. I also bring leadership and organization.
5280: How is NSCD different from other recreational opportunities for disabled individuals?
BZ: We don’t just serve kids, we serve people ages five to 75. We serve all disabilities. We do the physical disabilities like spinal cord disabilities and amputees, but also cognitive and behavioral disabilities.
5280: Do participants often return?
BZ: Once groups and families find us, they tend to come a lot. A few years ago when I was a volunteer ski instructor, there was a woman in our volunteer training clinic who was a participant the year before. She had a brain tumor. She had it removed and lost everything. She had to learn how to talk again, walk again, play her violin again. She was there a few years as a participant, but once she regained her skills, she came back as a volunteer.
5280: Are there any participants in particular who you have seen grow from experiences with NSCD?
BZ: At the therapeutic horse riding center in Winter Park, I had a four-year-old and he had never talked. But there was physically no reason for it. I had him on a horse for an hour and when we were getting toward the end of our time, I was leading the horse and I kept telling him that the horse was not going to move unless he told it to. I said, “Say go Nibbles.” And he said, “Go Nibbles.” His mom burst into tears. There were a lot of times I would leave at the end of the day teared up because something had happened that moved me.
5280: What is in the future for NSCD?
BZ: There is so much opportunity in the future. We want to solidify the “national” part of our name. We don’t need to be everywhere in the nation, but it is having a national reputation and recognition.
Read more about the National Sports Center for Disabilities in our December 2012 issue.
—Image courtesy of the National Sports Center for Disabilities