Enfield Teen Dreams Of Paralympics

Andrew Haraghey (Eric Vo / Hartford Courant / October 7, 2011)

Fifteen-year-old Andrew Haraghey's hard work may make his dream to ski with the United States Adaptive Ski Team in the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Russia a reality.

Andrew, a sophomore at Enrico Fermi High School in Enfield, has spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, which mainly affects his lower extremities.

Andrew's troubles began when he was 6 months old, said his mother Sheryl Haraghey. When she went to check on him after he took a nap, she noticed something was wrong. "He was so weak, he couldn't open his eyes or even cry," she said. "He was like a limp noodle."`

Once Andrew was diagnosed, his parents questioned what the future would bring, and whether or not he would be able to walk, Haraghey said.

Yet at 2, he was able to stand on his own and he began regaining feeling in his arms and hands, his mother said. While his legs remained stiff, Haraghey taught himself to walk, but his pace was slower than his peers' and the effort tired him.

When he reached 7, Andrew began skiing with his mother and brother Ryan Haraghey. Haraghey said skiing offered her younger son a chance to be "free."

"On the ski slope, there's no limitations," she said. "We used to have to wait for him, now he waits for us."

Considering Andrew's skiing accomplishments since, it's hard to believe that it took him three years to learn how to ski on his own. He used to hold on to his mother's ski poles as they went down a mountain.

"It was physically challenging," Andrew said. "I had trouble standing up, but I kept trying."

It all "clicked," his mother said, when they were at Mount Sunapee in Newbury, N.H., where Haraghey was taking lessons. She was elated because she she wasn't sure if skiing would work out and if he'd be able to learn.

Sue Tatem, executive director of programs at AbilityPLUS at Mount Snow in Vermont and Haraghey's coach, said she was surprised when she first saw him ski.

"When you see him walk, you think there's no way he can ski," she said. "But when he skis, you'd never know he had a disability."

Andrew, who has been working as a volunteer mentor and instructor at AbilityPLUS at Mount Snow, has been called an "emerging athlete" by Mau Thompson, the 2011 U.S. Skiing Association's Adaptive Coach of the Year.

Andrew began training two years ago, and in December 2010 he was awarded a scholarship to attend the National Race Festival at the Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colo.

This past race season, Andrew competed in seven races, medaling in five of them. His training for the upcoming season will begin in late October or early November. He currently skis in the form and technical disciplines of slalom and giant slalom, and Tatem believes Andrew will begin competing in the Super G speed event.

In order to compete in the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, Haraghey has to place a certain number of times in his races this season. If he does, he'll secure a spot on the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team.

The effort means costs for travel, training and equipment. His family also wants to be able to watch him compete in distant races. That is why they have been fundraising, through venues including a mini-golf event and a motorcyle poker run.

"It's amazing to see how many people are behind him," Sheryl Haraghey said. "I'm amazed at the generosity."

Andrew will continue to work toward his dream while encouraging others with disablilities.

"Just keep trying. If you stop, you won't do anything," he said. "But if you try, something might work."

For more information about Andrew Haraghey's dream, visit his website at http://www.andrewraces.com.