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Young Haitian Earthquake Survivor Learns How To Ski At The Hartford Ski Spectacular In Breckenridge

Posted on 15 Dec 10

When Ornichleel ("Leel") Ulysse was learning how to ski at the Beaver Run Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort earlier this week, she was just like any youngster getting used to the ski gear. What makes Leel different from the average young ski novice is that she's a below-the-knee amputee who was injured in the January earthquake that struck her native home of Haiti.

The 11-year-old Haitian earthquake survivor is among the 800 men, women, and children with physical disabilities who are learning how to ski and race this week at The Hartford Ski Spectacular. This is the 17th straight year that The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., is sponsoring the nation's largest winter sporting festival for individuals with physical disabilities. The disability insurer also arranged for Leel to participate in The Hartford Ski Spectacular, which is organized by Disabled Sports USA.

"We are so excited to have Leel as our special guest at The Hartford Ski Spectacular. Her strength and courage have inspired us. We hope that by learning new skills, she'll build confidence and take key steps on the road to recovery," said Ron Gendreau, executive vice president of The Hartford's Group Benefits. "Leel and the other men, women and children here embody our Ability Philosophy — that success is possible when you focus on abilities, not limitations."

Leel was injured when the stone block wall of her house in Port au Prince collapsed on her. Her mom, Marielle Aupont, pulled her from the rubble and discovered that a large block of stone had smashed Leel's right foot. Eight days after the earthquake, they managed to see a U.S. relief doctor, who said her foot was badly infected. Her right leg was later amputated below the knee.

This past May, Leel learned to walk again after she received a custom-designed prosthetic leg, physical therapy, and gait training from A Step Ahead Prosthetics & Orthotics in Hicksville, N.Y. She visited the Long Island facility for therapy and a fitting last week before heading to The Hartford Ski Spectacular. This week Leel and her mom are wearing warm clothing provided by a grant from The Hartford.

The Hartford was put in touch with Leel through U.S. Paralympian Sandy Dukat, who is a patient of A Step Ahead. Dukat learned how to ski at The Hartford Ski Spectacular in 1997 and went on to earn bronze medals in downhill skiing at the 2002 and 2006 Paralympic Winter Games. She now works for The Hartford, which is the founding partner of U.S. Paralympics.

"The Hartford has a long-held belief that sports are an important part of physical rehabilitation following a life-changing illness or injury," said Dukat. "We hope Leel and all the participants at The Hartford Ski Spectacular will experience the healing power of sports, and they'll realize that with the right resources and support, what one's heart, mind and body can accomplish is limitless."

The week-long event ends on Sunday. The hope is that Leel will inspire residents of Haiti, who've endured an earthquake, a hurricane and an outbreak of cholera. "Our goal this week is to empower Leel. We hope that she will learn to live life without limitations," Dukat said. "We hope her experience will inspire others to focus on abilities."