When Utah nurse Melody Forsyth learned her baby-to-be had Down syndrome, she and her family thought it would change their lives. And it did - for the better. Ruby, now six, has led the Forsyth family into a world of outdoor recreation, including skiing. Watching Ruby ride the Chickadee lift at Snowbird and ski down with her Wasatch Adaptive Sports guide is a life-changing experience seeing the joy that skiing brings to this young girl and her family.
Before Ruby was born, Melody, her husband Vic, and three children weren’t exactly outdoor enthusiasts. But upon learning her soon-to-be-born Ruby would have Down syndrome, the family felt they would lose the future possibility for outdoor recreation. So with Melody pregnant, the family took off into mother nature, visiting parks, hiking and exploring Utah’s mountains and deserts.
When Ruby was born a few months later, they never stopped. Today, they’re often tabbed as Utah’s ‘Adventure Family,’ on a mission to explore every national park in America and finding a passion for outdoor adventure around Ruby.
is a chromosomal condition that impacts an estimated one in 700 newborns in America. Our genes are responsible for inherited traits, which are carried in chromosomes. Normally, each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes. Those with Down syndrome have a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. The impact of that varies from individual to individual.
At first blush, you might think Down syndrome would be limiting. But when you meet Ruby you quickly learn that she is a young girl on a mission! At just six, she navigates the rental shop with ease and knows exactly where she wants to stand in the bus to get the best view. One can only imagine what she’ll experience when she works her way up to the Snowbird tram!
Ruby’s genesis to snow was a product of the newfound active lifestyle of her family, led by Melody. But it also came to fruition through Wasatch Adaptive Sports at Snowbird, a program that has been introducing aspiring outdoor enthusiasts since 1977. According to program director Eileen May-West, children with Down syndrome are regular participants in the program.
What’s so heartwarming about Ruby’s tale is that it isn’t just HER story. It’s the story of an entire family and about the love they have been spreading to motivate others. What Melody thought would be a story of limitations, actually turned out to be a story of possibilities and access. It’s a story about the opportunities we all have as humans to enjoy our world.
When you see the smile on Ruby’s face as she comes tearing down Chickadee, you are reminded of the joy that sliding on snow brings to all of us.
Here’s a preview of the conversations. Listen in to the full Last Chair podcast to learn more.
Eileen May-West, Wasatch Adaptive Sports
You really cover a wide gamut here at Wasatch Adaptive Sports, don’t you?
Our youngest student since I've been here was two and our oldest is 98. Yah, we serve anyone with an adaptive need. A lot of times that is physical mobility, requiring adaptive equipment. But a lot of times it's someone with Down's syndrome or autism who just needs some specialized instruction or a big bag of tricks from their instructor to have them find success in skiing. We have a lot of students with Down syndrome and people of all abilities, ages and really scenarios that we teach to ski. Ruby is one of our family here and we're happy to have her.
With that wide range of individuals, what are the common motivators?
I think the number one tool any instructor, especially in adaptive, can have is fun and being able to know your student. So it’s getting to know Ruby - what she likes, whether it's Frozen or whatever characters are fun things that motivate her. And at the end of the day, just making sure whatever she did, whether it was straight gliding down the magic carpet that she wants to come back and do more, and over time it might take longer, but we can really usually get anyone there.
How important a role do parents play?
A lot of times parents are involved, just like Melody is, especially with kids. You know, no one knows that kid better than their parents do. So we definitely lean on them to help us, give us tips that they've already figured out over six and seven years. But, at the end of the day, the biggest feedback is smiling. And if we're moving away from smiling, we go back to where we can find it.
“At the end of the day, the biggest feedback is smiling.”
- Eileen May-West, Wasatch Adaptive Sports
What motivates you and your instructors?
It's the joy we all feel on the mountain. Everyone on our staff and within our organization feels that joy. It's added so much to my life and everyone should have the opportunity to access that. And that's really the biggest piece of meaning for me is every single person should be able to enjoy why people live in Utah.
Melody Forsyth, Ruby’s mom
So, Ruby looks like she’s pretty comfortable on skis?
Yeah, she's been doing awesome. This is her second season with Wasatch Adaptive and she's been doing just awesome and blossoming into a little skier.
What was your perception when you heard that your unborn child had Down syndrome?
I didn't know anybody with Down syndrome. Our perception was that we wouldn't be able to do anything as a family. I thought that Down syndrome would prevent us from doing anything fun or going anywhere, that we would be stuck at home with a child that had a disability. Obviously, you know, everything has changed for us. It changed our whole outlook on life. It changed our whole lifestyle. It changed the way we live, the way we plan family activities, the way we spend time as a family. It was just completely a total mind shift for us.
How does Down syndrome impact Ruby?
Everyone with Down syndrome is different. Somebody once said, ‘if you know somebody with Down syndrome, you know, one person with Down syndrome because there's just a wide difference in their abilities. Ruby is still non-verbal at this time, meaning she makes noises, she can make sounds. She has a couple of words. Luckily, one of her words is mom. So she will say mom, but really doesn't communicate any other way except through a communication device that she will use. She can point to pictures. As a family, we kind of just know what she wants. We know she'll go get it, but she can't actually communicate.
How did she get started skiing?
I just saw that there were programs like Wasatch Adaptive for people with disabilities and we'd already started doing other activities where we were surprised by what she was able to do. So it was kind of like, ‘well, why stop there?’ Let's try this out just because we'd heard really good things from other people that had been involved or had been teachers here involved with the program at one point in their life. And they're like, It's such an amazing program. And they just really get the kids. They work with them so well that it was like, well, let's give it a try. Let's see how she does.
With your family’s newfound love of the outdoors, Utah is a pretty great place to be, isn’t it?
We travel all over the state because there are just so many cool things to do as a family. You can put in a ton of activity level or just have fun exploring. You're just letting kids hang out, just doing whatever they're doing. There are so many things for families to be able to do and get out there and spend time together. That's our bonding, that's our activity - what we plan together as a family. It brings us together.
Melody, as a mom, what has Ruby brought to your life and that of your family?
She's made me a stronger person and has opened the world to me. She has taught me to not put limits on myself as a plus size person ... I think I still … it's like, that's why I didn't ski either, because I'm like, fat people don't ski because that was the narrative. I told myself, ‘that's not for me. People my size don't do this.’ And so as I saw her doing it, I'm like, ‘well, I don't want her to grow up feeling that way or ever thinking, ‘oh, because I have Down syndrome, I can't do this.’ I want her to try things, see if she likes it, see if she can do it. Because she set that example for me, I'm like, ‘well, now, I can't set these limits on myself and I need to push myself as well. Let's give it a try.’
Ruby’s eyes lit up as she rode the Chickadee lift and gazed out across the valley to Mt. Superior. A smile crossed the face of her instructor Catherine from Wasatch Adaptive Sports. But, most of all, joy emanated from the heart of Melody, Ruby’s mom, down below thinking about the joy that skiing - and all that Ruby does - has brought to their family.
Listen in to Last Chair to hear more about Ruby and how she’s changing not only her life but all those around her.
Wasatch Adaptive Sports
Since 1977, Wasatch Adaptive Sports at Snowbird has been bringing the joy of skiing and snowboarding to children, adults and veterans - and their families! Its programs empower students to achieve their unique goals in recreation while maximizing independence and providing access to the physical, mental, and social benefits associated with movement. Its programs require no initial fees, with full or partial scholarships available for those in need. Wasatch Adaptive Sports is based in Creekside at Snowbird, with a summer program based out of Murray.