Passion for skiing turns into career
Slicing through fresh powder with the wind whipping at you and sunshine on your face—what could be better? For Marriott School professor Neil Lundberg, the only thing greater than skiing itself is helping others get out on the slopes.
“It all started when a supervisor at the National Ability Center in Park City invited me to come and work with a group from Chicago,” Lundberg says. “These were all kids that had recently been through cancer and had various side effects from treatment. Our skiing program was a way to help them move on and show them that there are still things to live for and be excited about.”
That’s when the lightbulb went off in Lundberg’s head.
“It was gratifying to be able to help them in the wake of such a traumatic experience. My eyes were opened to the fact that I could actually do this professionally, and it could be really meaningful and fun,” Lundberg says. “I realized I had unique skills to offer that could make a life-changing impact on participants.”
But the skills required for a specialized career, such as therapeutic recreation, aren’t acquired overnight. Lundberg developed a passion for recreation early on as the son of a manager and ski instructor at Alta Ski Area.
“We grew up skiing,” Lundberg says. “I don’t remember a time in my life when skiing wasn’t a part of it.”
Because of his father’s work in the ski industry, Lundberg always had his eye on a recreation-oriented career but didn’t know the possibilities until discovering BYU’s recreation management program. After receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from BYU, Lundberg’s work with the National Ability Center is what made it finally click.
“I realized that I found a lot of satisfaction in providing recreation opportunities for people who might not traditionally be able to experience it,” Lundberg says. “There are a lot of barriers in the way for somebody with a disability simply because they may need specialized equipment or techniques.”
The National Ability Center empowers individuals of all ability levels through sport, recreation, and educational programs. After running programs there for seven years, Lundberg packed up his family and moved to Indiana to complete his PhD, which he received in 2006. In Indiana, Lundberg worked with a rehabilitation hospital focusing on adaptive sports research. That research led him to connect with the Wounded Warriors Project, as well as other adaptive sports programs in Utah, Colorado, and Idaho.
“These programs are a way to help integrate veterans who may have acquired a disability in combat back into society,” Lundberg says. “Hopefully through adaptive sports programs they realize there are still options for them to live active and engaging lives. When we’re interviewing veterans, we hear about the huge impact these services can have on their life. That’s when all of a sudden you realize what you’re doing is making a difference.”
Lundberg was able to get back to his roots, and the mountains, when he began teaching at BYU in 2006. The subject matter of his classes can range from cognitive behavioral therapy to mountain biking. He could probably give you a few skiing tips, too—Lundberg maintains his professional ski instructor certification, although between six children and his academic duties, he doesn’t have time to teach at local ski resorts like Sundance and Park City anymore.
“I like activities that my kids are interested in, whether it’s running or playing soccer or other outdoor things,” Lundberg says. “We go camping in the summertime and enjoy spending time outside as a family, which, I think, is the most satisfying and enjoyable thing to do.”