Telluride Adaptive Sports Program instructor Brian Metsker and skier Bob Emerson. The nonprofit is celebrating 25 years in 2021. (Courtesy photo)

During the past 25 years, local nonprofit Telluride Adaptive Sports Program (TASP) has served thousands of outdoor enthusiasts with disabilities through tens of thousands of programs and lessons in becoming one of the region’s most well-known, and respected, organizations.

This year TASP is celebrating its silver anniversary, though it traces its roots back to 1992-93, when locals like Bill Glasscock, Colleen Trout and Joyce Allred laid the framework and organized the then-ski school program, which eventually branched off and incorporated as a nonprofit in 1996.

In the early days, the program was known mainly through word of mouth and later relegated to a small 200-square-foot room in the ski school, recalled longtime instructor and supporter Dianne Pauls. She had an interest in working with athletes with disabilities since her father-in-law, Edward, developed outrigger skis and her husband, Glenn, had similar instructing experience while growing up in his native Minnesota.

It was a small group, she said, but the passion was there.

“I think you get back more than you give,” Dianne Pauls said.

She, along with instructors like Gigi Gerlach, have been with TASP since the beginning. The Pauls also helped initiate and create the nonprofit’s veterans programs, which are now offered in partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project and have served 1,400 disabled veterans through annual winter and summer trips.

Similarly, the history of TASP cannot be told without mentioning the late Bob Miller, who was one of TASP’s first participants and a big influence before his untimely passing in 1998 from cancer. Betty Miller, his widow, remembered how excited her husband, a recent above-the-knee amputee when they moved to the area, was about the opportunities of the program and became involved after his death. She’s still a board member and led winter lessons up until a few seasons ago, when she relocated to a retirement community in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“That was his thing. When he died, I decided I would get involved and it saved me because I realized there were other things than my own grief. It has had my heart this whole time,” Betty Miller said.

One of TASP’s annual fundraising events is the popular Bob Miller Memorial Golf Classic, which Betty Miller attends each year in sponsoring two teams.

Another yearly TASP event is the Blue Party fundraiser; the color recognizes the blue jackets that volunteers and instructors wear. Unfortunately, the 2021 party can’t be held in its traditional format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but an online silent auction was recently launched, explained TASP Executive Director Courtney Stuecheli.

“This year, fundraising has certainly been challenging for nonprofits since we’re not able to come together in-person,” she said. “Since we weren’t able to have our Blue Party, we pivoted and created an online auction, which we launched on Friday and will be open until March 31. People can go on and bid on really exciting items. It’s been live for a few days, and most items have bids, but there are still some great deals.”

Auction items include trips to the Dunton Hot Springs, Hawaii and Santa Fe. As of press time Tuesday afternoon, the auction had raised $34,775.50, or 58 percent, of the $60,000 goal. The 25-year anniversary auction can be viewed at 32auctions.com/TASP.

“Funds raised in this auction will provide world class adaptive programs for low-income, regional participants and for more than 180 veterans with disabilities,” Stuecheli said, adding, “For folks that really want to contribute to the heart and soul of what we do, they can sponsor a summer adventure for an adaptive athlete or sponsor a disabled veteran for a week-long camp experience here in Telluride.”

Those adventures vary between $150 and $2,500.

In celebration of this year’s anniversary, there are plans to release a video Thursday, featuring stories and toasts from former and current TASP participants.

This is all before TASP’s plans to hold several small events on the 25th of each month, starting in June, as a thanks to the community. Stuecheli recognized how difficult the past year has been for everyone and feels fortunate that TASP was still able to offer programs in a limited capacity.

“We’ve had a surprisingly wonderful year. I like to say it’s our silver anniversary year with lots of silver linings. Like everybody else, we just really didn’t know what to expect, and we’ve done what we do best. We were really fortunate,” she said in explaining the year-round offerings primarily operated at reduced capacities.

In reflecting on her 15 years with the nonprofit, Stuecheli talked about the growth TASP has experienced, including expanding into the Madeline and Granita buildings, as well as being able to provide more equipment and transportation to participants, but she’s most proud of the people who have become part of the ever-growing TASP family.

“Without our volunteers and instructors there would be no adaptive program. The breadth of knowledge that it requires to understand the equipment and disabilities and the needs of such a diverse population, I have to say, that’s one of the most important pieces of what we do and bring to the community,” she said.

She also thanked longtime employees, program director Tim McGough and operations director M’Lin Miller, as well as board president Fred Winston, for everything they’ve done and continue to do for TASP.

“It’s a big family up here. We know our volunteers all by their first names and often see their friends and family, and we celebrate birthdays together. It’s an incredible community up here, the staff, the volunteers and the participants,” she said.

Like Stuecheli, Dianne Pauls and Betty Miller agreed it’s the people, including the athletes, who make TASP so exceptional, as both said they get more out of it than participants may think they do. They’re also all looking forward to returning to normal operations, which seems like a possibility sooner rather than later.

“I feel like we’re getting close, so it feels really good,” Stuecheli added.

Plus, as Betty Miller explained, TASP has support from above, as Bob Miller’s ashes were spread from a plane flying over Wilson Peak, per his wishes.

“He’s up there, and he knows what’s going on. He would be so proud of everyone that works for the organization, particularly the staff and Courtney. He would be so proud,” she said. “When we both knew it was the end for him, I told him, ‘Just think, when you get to heaven, you’re going to have two legs.’ He said, ‘Nope, I’m going to have wings.’”

For more information about TASP, visit tellurideadaptivesports.org.