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Disabled Iraqi Freedom Vets to Hit the Slopes

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2004 – Seven soldiers who lost legs during incidents in Iraq will get the chance this weekend to schuss down the slopes of Vail, Colo.

Vail Ski Association, with support from a broad range of local and national donors, is providing the soldiers, their wives or girlfriends and their children an all-expense-paid visit to one of the world's premier ski resorts.

The Vail community and corporate sponsors will roll out the red carpet with free lodging, meals, lift tickets, ski equipment and lessons.

Cheryl Jensen from the Vail Ski Association said the weekend will allow soldiers to enjoy the exhilaration of skiing something she acknowledged most probably thought they'd never experience again.

Five of the soldiers to attend the ski weekend have skied or snowboarded before, and most rated themselves as accomplished skiers before losing their limbs. The other two soldiers have never been on skis.

Regardless of their experience on the slopes, Jensen said she expects the ski weekend to give the soldiers a renewed sense of freedom "and to make them feel as able-bodied as possible."

Instructors from Vail's Adaptive Ski School, which specializes in providing ski and snowboard classes for people with disabilities, will teach the soldiers skiing techniques. Using specially modified ski equipment, including "outriggers" -- poles with miniature skis attached to them for balance -- the skiers will maneuver through Vail's slopes and trails.

Jensen said the experience is expected to be a huge confidence builder for young, athletic soldiers who are now learning to live with disabilities. "It can really transform people's thoughts about their disabilities," she said.

To help reinforce that message, the soldiers will watch the U.S. Olympic Disabled Ski Team competitions and meet the racers at an awards banquet. "We want the soldiers to get a chance to meet these Olympic athletes who have overcome disabilities of their own to become champion competitors," Jensen said. "We hope it will be a great source of inspiration to them."

Continental, United and Frontier airlines offered free air travel. Colorado Mountain Express will provide free transfers to hotels and events. Vail hotels opened their doors with free lodging. Vail Resorts will offer free lift tickets, ski equipment and instruction.

Endolite Prosthetics will host a Friday night welcome reception at the Colorado Mountain Museum. Afterward, the soldiers and their guests will be treated to dinner at Vail's Larkspur Restaurant, courtesy of Ross Perot and retired Army Brig. Gen. Pete Dawkins, a polio victim who won the Heisman and Maxwell trophies as the nation's outstanding college football player in 1958.

Members of the Vail Fire Department will cook up a Saturday night dinner at their station, and on Sunday night, the soldiers and their guests will ride the gondola up the mountain for dinner at the Eagle's Nest Restaurant, courtesy of Vail Resorts and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie.

The Wheelchair Foundation is helping with the logistics and other private donors have contributed toward meals.

"It's going to be a great weekend," Jensen said.

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