Love of skiing, teaching drives Layman
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
SILT, Colorado – For a young man whose family once was told by doctors he could die, or at best never walk or talk again, Bobby Layman sure is a busy fellow these days.
He is not only walking and talking, he is back on the same ski slopes at Snowmass where, on Dec. 23, 2003, a skiing accident left Layman, then 16, in a coma with a traumatic brain injury and a bruised lung.
To be clear, Layman is not fully recovered. He speaks slowly and deliberately, and the range of motion of his extremities is not back to where it once was.
But he is able to do things that his doctors couldn’t have foreseen seven years ago.
His goal now, for instance, is to combine a newly found love of teaching with his long-established love of skiing to become a ski instructor.
And, as he regains his former confidence and abilities, he has branched out from his favorite core activity, skiing, to other pursuits.
Layman, now 23 and living in Silt, has become something of a celebrity among his peers as a member of the leadership team in the organization, Valley Life For All. The organization helps create opportunities for area residents saddled with disabilities of all types.
Layman gives inspirational talks to various organizations and to other people with disabilities; he has graduated from Colorado Mountain College with an associate degree and plans to get a bachelor’s degree in education; he has been a part-time teacher in the local schools for a year and hopes to do more; he skis the steeps and deeps at Highlands Bowl; and he drives himself around in the family car when he has to go to one or another of his various jobs and assignments.
A local youth empowerment organization, YouthZone, recently recognized him with the “West End Pals of the Year 2010 Pair” award for his work as a mentor to a nine-year-old in Rifle.
He rides a recumbent bicycle as part of his physical therapy routine at home, and he is taking dance lessons with the Artilluma Dance Company in Rifle.
Most importantly, he is working hard to become a ski instructor with Challenge Aspen, the non-profit, Snowmass Village-based organization that he began working with in 2004, 11 months after his accident, which helped him along on his road to recovery.
Founded in 1995, Challenge Aspen offers “year-round activities that integrate therapeutic recreational programs with cultural and arts participation,” according to its promotional brochure.
“I showed up the first day in a wheelchair, and I could barely talk,” Layman recalled recently at his home on Silt Mesa, explaining that the crash had also paralyzed his vocal cords.
He said he managed to complete three runs that day, on skis and using outriggers (essentially small skis attached to ski poles), and he hasn’t slowed down since then.
“I had to restart my skiing again, just like breathing, eating, talking,” he said with a smile.
His abilities are coming back strong, he said.
“It’s grown by leaps and bounds. Every day I can see something new happening,” he remarked.
His pace of learning is quickening all the time, and his social skills have been rekindled, largely by his work with Challenge Aspen.
“It opened new doors to me, because you can just sit around at home and do nothing, feeling sorry for yourself, or you can go out and do something,” Layman explained.
His mom, Mary Layman, added that his participation at Challenge Aspen has given him a new set of acquaintances and friends, filling a void left when his old high school crowd either moved on or moved away.
In spite of his successes, he admits, “Learning is difficult. It’s because of fatigue.”
But he has adapted to his new pace of living, he said, doing things at a slower speed than he once did, in order to be sure he doesn’t miss something crucial.
“The crash really boosted my persistence,” he explained. “I’m able to slow it down and get the most out of it.”
He decided last year he wanted to become a ski instructor, and has been doing all the hard work, studying and training that such a goal entails, including training trips to instructor clinics at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
In fact, he missed the YouthZone awards ceremony in order to attend the instructor’s clinic the same day.
Layman’s inspiration, in part, came from his work last year as a part-time teacher for the Mountain BOCES [Board Of Cooperative Educational Services], which works in 10 Western Slope school districts to expand academic programs and classes offered to students.
Working as an unpaid aide to a teacher, he met with kids with disabilities at Rifle High School, Graham Mesa Elementary School in Rifle and Elk Creek Elementary School in New Castle.
“I loved working with kids,” he said. “Kids really get a clear message when I’m talking, teaching.”
The idea of becoming a ski instructor, he said, meant “I was just going to transfer that [his love of teaching and skiing] onto the hill.”
He said that the CEO of Challenge Aspen, Houston Cowan, already has a mission in mind for Layman – being part of the Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities “CAMO” program, which works with disabled military veterans.
“He really wants me to get certified so I can teach up and coming vets with TBI [traumatic brain injury] how to ski,” Layman said, noting that last week he skied with some Israeli army veterans at Snowmass.
With all these activities and obligations to keep track of, Layman might be forgiven for wanting to use his weekends for a little down time – but that is not the case.
Even as he talked with the Post Independent on Thursday, he was thinking ahead to participating with his mom in the Chris Bove Memorial Uphill Challenge on Saturday at Buttermilk.
The pair will join racers and hikers of all ages on skis, snowshoes or other uphill gear who will walk up the slopes to the Cliff House Restaurant. It’s a benefit for Challenge Aspen and for the Children’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Program.
Bove, who died four years ago in a skiing accident, was one of Layman’s instructors at Challenge Aspen.
Proudly mentioning his nickname, “Bob-o-nator,” given to him by a Snowmass ski patroller, Layman paused and looked back at his continuing road to recovery.
“I knew it was going to be a long trip, but I’m back skiing Highlands Bowl again,” he remarked, with a shy smile that widened into a broad grin across his features.
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