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Life Turns


max-mancini-life-turnsMax Mancini (left, in orange) with a Life Turns group. Photo by Jen SchumacherIn 2007, professional tele-skier Max Mancini was driving his truck with his pregnant girlfriend when he lost control of the vehicle and went into oncoming traffic. The ensuing accident left him alone in a hospital bed, his skull in pieces, brain filled with blood clots, and most damaging of all, his girlfriend and their unborn child didn’t survive the wreck. Mancini was devastated, and after the surgeries, the rehab, and the emotional and spiritual damage, he returned to the one thing that hadn’t been taken from him. Skiing. “It helped me process a lot of what was going on,” says Mancini. Slowly, turn after turn, he got better.


For Mancini, though, just getting “better” wasn’t enough. Today, he’s the CEO of Life Turns, a free, weeklong program for medically challenged kids from the Denver Children’s Hospital. “Max’s approach was ‘I need to heal myself, I need to get better, and I need to give back’,” says Life Turns COO Jen Schumacher.


Life Turns is built upon the healing powers and independence of the outdoors. During the camps, children travel to Crested Butte where they participate in outdoor activities like skiing and dog sledding, as well as learning basic domestic skills. “We like to take kids and put them out of their element, but in a really safe way,” says Mancini. “At the beginning of each camp we have the kids set goals. One of the campers said it was their goal to make their own bed for the first time. Things like that are really empowering for them.”


“Max had his own issues, and through his own way of thinking he moved on with his life,” says Sam Ramos, a 14-year-old who suffered a stroke at birth that affected the entire right side of his brain, leading to vision loss, seizures and partial paralysis. Ramos spent his last two spring breaks at the Life Turns camps. “He taught me that you can basically do anything if you don’t hold yourself back.”


Life Turns holds two camps in the winter and two in the summer. And though Mancini has little doubt he is helping children, he often wonders who is getting the most benefit. “Maybe I’m having a bad day at work or something, but then I remember it’s nothing compared to what these kids face every single day of their lives,” says Mancini. “Sometimes I feel like we get more out of it as counselors than the campers do.”  —Gavin Gibson

For more information on Life Turns, go to lifeturns.org.

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