OT Helping Paralympian Train for Winter Games

Stephanie Yamkovenko

An occupational therapist in Maine helped a Paralympian train for the Winter Paralympics, which open in PyeongChang on March 8.

Kristina Sabasteanski, OTR/L, who has represented Team USA in two Winter Olympics, used her skills as a biathlete and an OT to help Eric Frazier compete to be a part of Team USA.

Frazier and another Paralympian, Dan Cnossen, were looking for a place to train. Sabasteanski’s adaptive sports program for veterans is housed at the 5,000-acre Pineland Farms, which has 30 kilometers of professionally designed trails.Winter Olympics

In 2013, AOTA profiled Sabasteanski’s Veterans Adaptive Sports and Training (VAST) program. We followed up with her to get an update on her work with the Paralympians and how the program is doing 5 years later.

The core of the VAST program is using sports as an occupation that helps veterans get out of their houses and enables them to participate in their community. This was the first time an athlete at Frazier’s level trained with Sabasteanski.

“When I think about coaching, I think of it more like activity analysis,” says Sabasteanski. “What can we tweak with your ability to make you go faster?”

She uses a strengths-based approach, fine tuning what the athlete is able to do and not focusing on what they cannot do. “You can’t change the fact that you have a spinal cord injury and you’re racing against someone with amputation, which means they can use more of their core, but what can we work on? We try to fine tune his abilities.”

The original goal of the program was to have 35 veterans with disabilities participate three times a year. In 2017, VAST had 52 weeks of programming with 179 veterans with disabilities participating.

Most of the veterans who participate in VAST are recreational athletes. “For some veterans, just getting out of their homes and helping others is extremely rewarding and therapeutic to them,” says Sabasteanski. “They may have missed every basket in wheelchair basketball, or only hit the 1 ring on the archery target. However, they got outside that day, had a good laugh, and realized they are not alone in their experiences as a veteran.”

Sabasteanski uses her skills as an OT to help participants thrive—whether it’s addressing the psychosocial needs of the veterans or working to identify and remove barriers to participation. She also recently had five Level 1 occupational therapy fieldwork students work with VAST. The students received hands-on experience dealing with veterans and learning about their habits, roles, and barriers.

Occupational therapy practitioners have the knowledge and potential for working with people in the adaptive sports arena, Sabasteanski says. “Our jobs are to help clients reach their full potential no matter their disability, ability, age, or interest.”

Correction: On 2/28/18, this article was updated  to reflect that athlete Dan Cnossen did not make it to Pineland Farms to train due to bad weather. 

Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s Digital Editor.

All photos courtesy of Kristina Sabasteanski.

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