From the formidable seas of the Atlantic Ocean to the mountainous slopes of Breckenridge, Colorado, Clyde Grindell has made this 2,000-plus mile journey every winter for the past 25 years. The Cape Cod, Massachusetts resident comes to Breckenridge every year for one reason, and one reason only, to volunteer with Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s (BOEC) Adaptive Ski & Snowboard Program. While BOEC currently has over 400 active volunteers on its roster, one thing for sure is that Clyde Grindell is not just any ordinary volunteer.
Clyde with a BOEC Instructor
There are quite a few things that make Clyde’s story unique, so let’s break them down before we get too ahead of ourselves. First of all, Clyde is 90-years young which means he started volunteering with BOEC at the ripe old age of 65 and is still active today. Secondly, Clyde stays active and still works at a Cape Cod boatyard fixing and maintaining a variety of boats. Third of all, Clyde’s son Gary is a paraplegic which is mostly responsible for the formation of this BOEC relationship. And last but not least, Clyde is only one of five individuals ever to be named to the BOEC Lifetime Achievement List.
Clyde’s journey started after “hanging up” his 28-year career working in the telephone industry and subsequently buying his brother and sister out of their trailer park business. In what turned out to be a beneficial turn of events for the BOEC, this just so happened to open up his winters to do whatever he pleased, such as volunteering with the BOEC. But there is a little backstory to what ultimately led him down this path.
Clyde poses with a group of skiers
In 1980, Clyde’s son Gary was involved in a terrible car accident that left him with the loss of muscle function in the lower half of his body. Not only was becoming a paraplegic obviously life-changing for Gary, but dramatically changed things for Clyde too. Physical and occupational therapy was performed for years and the call to the slopes ensued using the old toboggan-like sleds at Snowmass and a few other adaptive ski programs around the country. And then, 15 years after Gary’s accident, Clyde stumbled upon the BOEC and the rest is Grindell history.
“This would have been my 25th year, but due to COVID-19 regulations I have been forced to sit this one out,” says Clyde with a twinge of nostalgia. “When we first went to Breckenridge I would drive out in my motorhome and live at the RV park in Breckenridge. My son first got his chance on a mono-ski with the BOEC and he loved it! So that’s how I decided to get involved from that point on.”
And while Gary eventually moved on to the wetter and warmer waters of adaptive sailing in lieu of skiing, Clyde was hooked and seemed to have found his winter home with the BOEC. While Clyde was teaching adaptive ski lessons in Breckenridge, Gary was in Florida taking home all kinds of awards in the sailing world, something that is not lost on the proud papa.
Clyde with an adaptive Special Olympics participant
“Look, he’s making the most of it,” says Clyde. “He’s not skiing with me anymore but he’s doing what he wants to do. He’s had a tough life, but a good life, and sailing is a big part of that.”
So the 65-year old at the time decides to keep the tradition alive with every summer being spent at the boatyard on the Cape and every winter living in a mobile home and volunteering at the BOEC.
“It gives me great satisfaction to volunteer with the BOEC,” he humbly says. “It’s the first volunteer kind of thing I’ve ever done. I just got drawn into it and this became something I had to do. You get to meet wonderful people and you can see that you’re doing something amazing for them. It’s been a big part of my life.”
Clyde Grindell and Peter Loritz
And speaking of doing something amazing, Clyde is quick to point out two young men that encapsulate his volunteer experience to a T, while being a big part of his BOEC life for 15 years. Instructing and training Greg Stanley and Peter Loritz for the Special Olympics each year became a winter rite of passage for the three. In the morning they would tackle the gates and run the courses at Breckenridge Ski Resort, and in the afternoons they would explore the mountain, just the three of them.
“I would say to them, ‘Okay take me somewhere you want to go’ and I went to some places I didn’t think I wanted to be,” chuckles Grindell. “But we would just ski together in the afternoons and it was a lot of fun.”
But it was more than just a barrel of laughs as Greg eventually captured his first Special Olympics gold medal under Clyde’s tutelage, an honor that was immediately bestowed upon Grindell by the athlete due to all his help and effort to get him to that point over the years.
“Just describing that experience really gets me as it was really a beautiful thing,” says a teary-eyed Clyde when thinking back to Greg giving him his gold medal. “It was really something special to be a part of.”
And then, in a true harmonious turn of events, two years ago when Greg and Clyde got together again for another lesson, the latter graciously returned the medal back to its rightful owner.
“He was very appreciative to get the medal back, but he’s kind of difficult to communicate with so it was a bit bittersweet,” Clyde remembers. “He had me call his mother and it was a nice conversation. She appreciates all that I have done for him, so that was great too.”
Clyde is one of five people to earn the BOEC Lifetime Achievement Award
It’s this kind of student-instructor relationship that Clyde Grindell has been formulating with all of his students over the years that makes him a truly unique volunteer. And it’s all that he has done for every life he touches that has earned him a place on BOEC’s Lifetime Achievement List, an honor given to only five individuals over the 45-year history of the organization. This award, which is given to a person that has been an integral part of the BOEC Ski Program for many years, is a pretty big honor as the list includes the likes of BOEC founding Board Member Dave Newkirk and former ski director Gene Gamber. Once again, something the always-humble Grindell doesn’t necessarily think he deserves.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, I don’t think I belong there but that’s okay,” he says in his thick New England accent. “I appreciate that I’m only one of five, but someone like Gene Gamber is on that list and has done a whole lot more than me. I really appreciate it, but there are many more people that deserve it more than me.”
Clyde Grindell with the Clear Creek Special Olympics crew
Current ski program director, Jeff Inouye, puts it in true perspective whether Clyde thinks he deserves the honor or not. “I have known Clyde for many years now … in fact we both started with the BOEC the same year,” reflects Inouye. “His dedication, hard work and commitment to the ski program is something I will never forget and can never thank him enough for. He is the true definition of someone who is dedicated to giving back to the community and the sport he loves so much. He will always be a part of our family.”
So, as you can tell by now, Clyde is certainly one of the special ones. And in true irony, from the slopes of Breckenridge to the boatyards of Cape Cod, one specific story brings his entire experience full circle when he met former United States Senator Ted Kennedy Jr. at the BOEC. As you may or may not know, when Kennedy was twelve, osteosarcoma (a form of bone cancer) was diagnosed in his right leg and the leg was subsequently surgically amputated. He was visiting the BOEC many years later to promote the Special Olympics when the two first met and then, two years ago, the then 88-year old was working on a 58-foot schooner at the boatyard and Ted Kennedy Jr. just so happened to be chartering the same boat. So the two met again and had a quick conversation.
“I said to him ‘Hey Ted have you ever thought about trying to ski with the new prosthetic equipment for above the knee amputees,’” says Clyde. “Ted replies with ‘You can’t do that’ and I said ‘You’ve got to look into it Ted.’ I haven’t talked with him since so I don’t know if he’s looked into it. I think he’s still doing three-track.”
Denver Post article mentioning Clyde and his participation in the Hartford Ski Spectacular, hosted by BOEC
While COVID-19 kept him from volunteering this season, there’s no stopping this dynamo as Clyde expects to return next year as long as health safety protocols allow.
“I just bought a new pair of skis, so I’m not hanging up my boots just yet,” he exclaims. “I intend to keep skiing for a while anyway. I don’t do too many bumps anymore but groomers I can hack pretty well. I’ve got a bad hip and when you get to my age your strength is on the downhill trend. But I intend to keep doing it while I can.”
BOEC intends to keep having Clyde back each winter as long as he is able because as we mentioned, he is on the Lifetime Achievement List and is considered part of the BOEC family. And clearly the feeling is mutual.
“Working with the same people at the BOEC year in and year out has been wonderful,” he says. “You come in there, they know you and you’re always welcome there. It’s really great.”
What motivates Clyde Grindell to keep on volunteering? He points to the satisfaction of bringing someone into a sport that they can participate and do well in no matter their ability.
“It’s something they probably never thought would ever happen,” he adds. “It’s a big deal for a lot of people, and the BOEC gives them that opportunity. I couldn’t be more thankful to be a part of it.”
We, here at the BOEC, couldn’t be more thankful that you are a part of the family as well, Clyde. Thank you for all you do.