Faces in the crowd — Catherine Hayes Rodriguez
Catherine Hayes Rodriguez puts a lot of herself into her job as director of programs at the Tahoe Adaptive Ski School (TASS).
Still, she’ll be the first to say she also gets a lot out of the job, which she loves.
TASS instructors teach people with all kinds of disabilities – physical, mental and emotional – to ski.
Sometimes equipment, including the monoski, is used to facilitate skiing and help compensate for students’ particular disabilities.
“Skiing is a great vehicle for people who don’t have great mobility in their own lives,” Hayes Rodriguez said.
The certified ski instructor also has a degree in therapeutic recreation from San Jose State University.
Hayes Rodriguez, 40, said her heart was always in the adaptive ski program, as opposed to the more typical ski instruction.
She said learning to ski probably does not make life changes for non-disabled people.
However, hearing comments like “that was the best day of my life” from disabled students after a day on the mountain is worth everything to Hayes Rodriguez, who said she and other TASS ski instructors hear it all the time.
“I love my job. I never have one day that is the same as the next.”
She said what she likes best about her job is the people she works with, including the staff, instructors, volunteers and the disabled people who come to the school.
One of the more difficult things about her job, she said, is having someone who comes to the school after losing their four limbs in an automobile accident.
“It’s really hard to feel sorry for yourself. It makes you want to live up to their standards. It makes anyone who comes here a stronger person.”
Hayes Rodriguez came to the Tahoe area while she was “avoiding college,” she said, adding that a two-week vacation turned into a more permanent move.
“There was something magical about the skiing and the air.”
Initially, she worked as a bus girl at Harrah’s in South Lake Tahoe, and later moved to the North Shore where she was a waitress.
In 1977 she heard about a group of people teaching blind people to ski. She soon joined the group of instructors, and decided she would rather teach skiing to the disabled than become a doctor.
She worked as a ski instructor during the winters, went to college in the summers and falls, and became a recreational therapist.
Hayes Rodriguez had worked for Disabled Sports, a national organization, at a variety of ski areas before 1984, when she came to work full time for TASS, which is based at Alpine Meadows.
The purpose of TASS, which has 30 staff instructors and trains 130 volunteer instructors, is to give disabled people of all ages a chance to enjoy life and make it affordable.
About 500 people, primarily from northern California, attend TASS winter programs each year. TASS also offers summer programs, including white water rafting, water skiing and Donner Lake camp outs.
TASS is trying to better involve local school children in its programs, she said, adding that a TASS scholarship fund was started about three years ago for local school children.
The Truckee resident said her work plays the number two role in her life, running a close second to her husband, Neil. They have a dog and a cat.
Hayes Rodriguez’s mother, Janet Gray Hayes, was the mayor of San Jose, and was also the first female mayor of a major metropolitan area with a population of more than 500,000.
Hayes Rodriguez is a member of the Truckee Sunrise Rotary Club, as well as the “Sipping, Sailing, Soaring Society,” a Nevada-based sport club of enthusiasts who ride three-wheel go-carts equipped with masts and sails.
She also enjoys making pottery, mountain biking and working out at the gym.
“I think that I’m really, really lucky,” she said, adding that she is very happy with her husband, her job, her neighborhood and her town. “No complaints.”
“It’s really hard for me to picture doing anything other than this.” Hayes
Rodriguez said when asked about her future plans.
“I pretty much see me staying in the ski industry as long as I can turn left, turn right and stop.”
(Do you know someone who stands out from the crowd? As Andy Warhol said, everyone deserves at least 15 minutes of fame. To nominate a “face in the crowd,” call 587-6061 or send a note to P.O. Box 2973, Truckee, CA 96160.)
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