Jack Cooperman has not been sitting still at his home in the mountains northeast of Los Angeles. For the last ten years, he has been a ski instructor, and that avocation evolved into work as an adaptive ski instructor with the United States Adaptive Recreation Center, which is based at Bear Mountain Ski Resort. USARC helps people with physical and/or cognitive disabilities live a fuller life through recreation – skiing and related sports in the winter, and adaptive waterskiing, kayaking, paddle-boarding in the summer, for example.
Jack says that the rewards in this line of work are immeasurably immense. “I had an autistic student four years ago, a 14-year-old boy, very non-verbal,” he tells me. “He was on the beginner’s slope, and it took all morning for him to learn a basic wedge in order to stop. I’ve tried all types of different methods. Finally, he’s talking to the skis, and suddenly, he stops. He looks up at me – and the look of empowerment on his face, the recognition that he has made this happen, is so joyful. If that is the last thing I see, I’ll be a very happy person. Since then I’ve been skiing with him a couple times a year, and he is now a very advanced intermediate. He goes down any blue run, and some single diamonds.”
Another student of Jack’s was a wheelchair-bound 13-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and a high I.Q. “He didn’t have the strength to use hand-riggers or steer for himself in a sit-ski,” says Jack. “I asked him what he wanted to do, and his father told me to take him to the worst places, and to have the most fun. I was totally controlling the bi-ski in front of me, with both hands on it — a technique called a bucket ride. The more I exaggerated I was in tipping him — which was easy because he was about 60 pounds — the more he would laugh and scream. I started going on the steeper slopes, spinning him and doing 360s. He was screaming with delight.”
In April, Jack was a volunteer instructor with the Disabled American Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, where 350 veterans took to the slopes over the course of a week. Two hundred other high-level instructors were on hand from all over North America. More than 150 sit-ski rigs were in use.
“One Marine I taught does not have the use of either leg,” says Jack. “He decided, at age 23, that he’d rather stop the enemies of the United States in Afghanistan than encounter them over here, and that is the result. And he has no regrets. He just wanted to learn to ski. He’s now on a mono-ski, and he’s fairly advanced. He just wanted me to teach him to jump on that ski and do tricks, to go faster and be more aggressive, like you’d expect from any Marine.”
Jack calls these endeavors a highly addictive passion. “These incidents, and many, many others, all give me goosebumps,” he says. “I feel so good about these people when I get finished. When people thank me, I tell them that they would not believe – nor could I beforehand — how blessed and rewarded I feel. You hear the old saying that it is better to give than to receive — that is really true in this case.”
Jack boundless energy is demonstrated off the slopes, too. He has also been a volunteer, officer and board member of Mountain Meals on Wheels for the past seven years. He also personally makes sure that seniors make it down the mountain for medical appointments. Jackʼs passion for forestry and nature goes back 50 years. He is a long-time member of Mountain RELEAF, a group which has worked with CalFire in the distribution and planting of 50,000 new trees following recent ﬁres and bark beetle infestation. Jack gathers conifer seeds, sprout seedlings and works with local Scout and other groups to distribute them free for planting. He personally has planted more than 5000 trees. He has worked his connections to boost the Lake Arrowhead Film Festival, and has taken a very active role in revitalizing the Antique and Wooden Boat Show, which brings tourism dollars to the region. He has been active with the Rim of the World Historical Society and helped out generously with the Mountain History Museum. All these activities and more led to his nomination for the 2012 Lake Arrowhead Communities Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Award.
Whew! In addition to all this, Jack has mentored many students in filmmaking who have done well. “I have not walked away from the film industry,” he says. “We are cinematographers, and we still want to do it. It’s what we enjoy, and it’s what we learned to do, so we keep doing it. I’d take the right project if it is a good one. I’m not worried about the fee, it’s the message.”