Not only was Ellie Bartlett an exceptional snowboarder, sometimes she’d do it while wearing a cow costume. As she sped down the slopes with the fleece tail flapping in the wind, those around her couldn’t help but smile and laugh.
Bartlett loved adventure and being active outside and believed those were experiences everyone deserved to have, regardless of ability. She put smiles on countless faces through her volunteer work with Oregon Adaptive Sports (OAS), a nonprofit organization that provides outdoor recreation for people with disabilities.
Bartlett, who died in a car accident in the summer of 2017, always poured every ounce of effort and determination into each aspect of her life, be they personal or community endeavors.
She was a top-tier student in the Clark Honors College, and was awarded a posthumous bachelor of science in human physiology.
She was also a carefree kid who brought the same determination to snowboarding. That included the aftermath of a snowboarding accident circa 2011, when she broke her back.
“She got some air—and I’m talking serious air—and ended up landing on the upslope of the next jump. She was laid up in bed for two, maybe three months,” says Jeff Walter, her stepfather. “The day she was given approval to go back to school, she went snowboarding. Keep in mind, this was the same day she got approval to walk without a brace.”
That scare prompted Bartlett to realize the importance of programs such as OAS for people with disabilities. “She had that experience of realizing how that accident could have gone different,” says Walter.
Bartlett became the liaison between the University of Oregon and OAS around 2015.
OAS, founded in 1996, had long been serving people with disabilities in the Willamette Valley but had never cemented a partnership with the UO. Bartlett galvanized that relationship, bolstering opportunities for UO students to volunteer with OAS and for UO students with disabilities to participate in OAS programs, says Pat Addabbo, OAS executive director.
Bartlett used her connections in the UO Outdoor Program to recruit students to help OAS participants. Today, OAS has 400 volunteers serving more than 450 people with disabilities; UO students are an integral part of that volunteer community, especially for programs at Hoodoo Ski Area near Sisters, Addabbo says.
Bartlett and other volunteers taught participants with disabilities to use equipment such as sit-skis. Just months after her death, OAS asked an incoming group of volunteers why they wanted to participate.
“It was outstanding how many people said they were there because of Ellie,” says accounting major Claire Bjornson, a friend of Bartlett’s and fellow OAS volunteer. “She brought out that same fun-loving energy in everyone at the program. They were excited just to have the opportunity to spend time with her.”
An OAS event honoring Bartlett—the inaugural Junior Racers/Ellie Ski Day—was the biggest of the 2019 season for the organization.
“From UO students to Ellie’s family, OAS staff, and instructors, people from across Oregon came to celebrate her spirit and legacy, which brought positivity and joy to our organization,” Addabbo says.
Bartlett showed everyone she met that nothing is more important than giving back and opening doors to get everybody involved in the experiences we love.
Griffin Reilly, a journalism major and member of the class of 2021, is the student intern for Oregon Quarterly.
Photos courtesy of Jeff Walter (Bartlett) and Pat Addabbo
The second annual Junior Racers/Ellie Ski Day is February 1 at Hoodoo Ski Area. The event is free to anyone under 25 with a disability; adaptive ski equipment and transportation will be provided by Oregon Adaptive Sports and the Ellie Bartlett Memorial Fund.