Going to new heights


Rona Kelner

Senior Josh Kelner stands at the top of a mountain in Park City, UT.

Lilli Libowitz, Incoming In-Depth Editor, Director of Staff Development

When senior Josh Kelner searched online for opportunities to give back to the community, his eyes lit up when he saw the position of ski instructor at the Special Olympics. An avid skier since age eight, he was excited to put his passion for skiing to use by helping others cultivate that same love for the sport. 

The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with special needs. The organization offers a variety of sports such as football, basketball, volleyball and skiing. 

With his background knowledge and overwhelming passion for the sport, Josh was a ski instructor from his freshman through junior years. Josh said that the experience taught him valuable lessons about leadership and exposed him to a community outside of his bubble. 

“First of all, I never had much interaction with the special needs community so it was eye-opening to connect with them on a personal level, while also helping to train them,” Josh said. “I learned a lot of ways to adjust my communication to be an effective coach, in ways I wouldn’t have in regular life.”

In his volunteering position, Josh worked with teenagers and young adults with special needs to help them train for a state-wide slalom skiing competition that occurs each year. He taught them the basics of skiing including turning techniques, proper form and the different ways to brake while skiing.

Before the pandemic, Josh commuted to Whitetail Ski Resort in Pennsylvania twice a month to serve as a ski instructor for amateur skiers. He would get to the resort at dawn to set up for the day. Then, the trainers would divide the students into separate groups for warm ups and drills with their instructors by their sides to give them tips to improve their skills.  

It wasn’t only Josh who was committed to skiing; his mother Rona Kelner had to drive him to and from Whitetail, which is two hours from their home.

“It was a little bit rough for me because we would have to leave the house at six in the morning to get to Whitetail,” Rona said. “…Even with the early drives, it was worth it because being an instructor influenced Josh positively.”

During the pandemic, the Special Olympics athletes practiced at the ski resort whenever possible. However, when the transmission rate got too high and large gatherings were prohibited, they worked on conditioning off of the slopes. 

“The Special Olympics has a competition at the end of the season and I prepared them for that,” Josh said. “Unfortunately, when COVID-19 hit, we could not have the competition, but we still got to practice for it even though we couldn’t compete.” 

The ski instructors took the Special Olympics athletes on hikes to maintain strong relationships with them, while also working on dryland training techniques. This was also used as a way to make sure that the athletes stayed active and maintained morale in a tough time.

Rona said she was thrilled that Josh could share his hobby in a meaningful way. 

 “I was so happy Josh was involved in the Special Olympics because it allowed him to share his love of skiing with people that he normally doesn’t spend time with,” Rona said.

Overall, Josh relished the opportunity to be involved in the Special Olympics and in a greater sense be able to share the sport he’s so passionate about with others. 

“It was a really good experience taking a sport that I love so much and teaching it to other people,” Josh said. “I loved helping them grow and enjoy it too. It was a good way to apply what I love and help other people in the process.”