One-time Olympic hopeful is good example of overcoming adversity

Leslie Thabes knows the impact of personal adversity. She is hearing-impaired, has internal physical deformities, has suffered serious illness, and has coped with several personal setbacks, including seeing her dream of being an Olympic downhill skier dashed due to injury.

You would think Sister Thabes would find it easy to withdraw from these challenges - which came one right after the other. But, instead, she uses her experiences and resulting wisdom as a means to touch the lives of others and help them overcome their disabilities.Today, Sister Thabes, 37, of the Midvale 6th Ward, Midvale Utah Stake, is a ski instructor for the disabled skier's program at Snowbird ski resort near Salt Lake City, and seeks every opportunity to share the light of the gospel through her example and by acts of love.

She credits the gospel for her ability to turn adverse circumstances into something positive. "The Holy Ghost helped me to change my life," emphasized Sister Thabes. "I feel the light of Christ."

The "light of Christ" lit her way long before she was baptized in 1977, and helped her through a difficult childhood. She was born near St. Paul, Minn., premature and with bronchial pneumonia, which resulted in a permanent hearing impairment.

Her parents divorced when she was 3 years old, and, for the next two years, she lived in three different foster homes. One of her foster families introduced her to what became a lifelong passion - snow skiing. She recalled that when she was 6 or 7, "someone gave me hardwood skis, bindings and wood ski poles. No boots, just overshoe boots to wear. That was the way I skied down the backyard hill at an early age."

Even after returning to live with her mother, who had remarried, the young girl continued to nurture her love for skiing. She participated in several ski clubs and on several teams. She dreamed of making the U.S. Ski Team. Then in February 1975, while a member of the United States Ski Association Ski Team for the Midwest Division, she was in a chairlift accident during which her left ankle was severely fractured.

She was heartbroken because she would not recover sufficiently for the U.S. Ski Team tryouts. But her life was to change even more than she expected. She felt prompted to move to Salt Lake City, and did so in June 1975.

She got a job at a local dress shop and met fellow employee Yvonne O. Shepherd, who introduced the young skier to the gospel. She was baptized Jan. 15, 1977.

The next year Sister Thabes tried one more time to fulfill her Olympic dream. She tried out for the U.S. Ski Team for the hearing impaired. "I failed to make the team because my ankle wasn't strong enough," said Sister Thabes. She retired that year from competition.

After serving a full-time mission to Ventura, Calif., in the early 1980s, and then attending BYU-Hawaii for a year, she became an instructor at Snowbird, where she gives skiing lessons to young people from throughout the nation who have various disabilities. She surmised she has instructed about 500 students through the years. She also works as a data entry operator for American Express.

Although she has found success and fulfillment in her work, her adversities have not ended. About five years ago, doctors discovered she has internal physical deformities. Since then she has also suffered two illnesses and had major surgery.

But her fortitude remains. She feels that those who are disabled are "very special" and she wants to be a good example to them. She does so through her ski classes and by continuing her involvement in other sports. She's an avid tennis player, and has been involved in various tennis clubs. While at BYU-Hawaii, she was on the school's tennis team. Today, she competes in various fund-raising tournaments.

Sister Thabes also enjoys other outdoor activities, such as horseback riding and hiking.

But the most important thing to Sister Thabes is her relationship to the Lord. Her favorite scripture is Mosiah 4:15: ". . . ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another."

Sister Thabes' attitude and example have not gone unnoticed. She was recognized in June 1991 with a local award known as the Dan Kostopulos Achievement Award for "her outstanding achievement in overcoming her own disability and setting an example for others."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed