Vietnam-Era Vet Inspires Disabled Troops from Iraq, Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., Apr. 5, 2005 Bruce Gibbings remembers the heartache of the motorcycle accident that landed him in a wheelchair, bringing an abrupt halt to his competitive National Standard Race skiing.
Vietnam-era veteran Bruce Gibbings is helping disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan recognize that they dont have to settle for lives of limitations. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie Thurlby, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Today the Vietnam-era veteran is back on the slopes with the recognition that the sky's the limit in terms of what he can do -- and he's sharing that message with disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan here for the 19th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
Gibbings remembers being invited to his first winter sports clinic in 1999, just three years after his motorcycle accident.
"I was hesitant to come. I was very afraid," said the Visalia, Calif., resident who served in the Army in the late 1960s along the German-Czech border.
But once he hit the slopes, with then-second lady Tipper Gore skiing at his side and ice hockey gold medalist Pat Sapp as his instructor, Gibbings said, his love of skiing quickly returned, along with his self-confidence.
"The first day, I fell constantly," Gibbings recalled. "The second day, I didn't fall at all. And the third day, I was racing. Things that I had learned as a child came back to me immediately."
The experience, he said, "opened my mind to the idea that the only disability I have is between my ears."
"I'm the one who sets my limitations," he continued. "And when I push to challenge myself, wonderful things happen."
Gibbings, attending his sixth winter sports clinic here this week, said he's helping share that recognition with the country's newest disabled veterans, returned from Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
"The value for me now is taking a newcomer under my wing and helping them see that this is the beginning of a new life that can be as fulfilling as their old life," he said.
The winter sports clinic exposes disabled veterans to skiing, snowmobiling, sled hockey, rock climbing, scuba diving and skeet shooting, among other activities.
When participants -- particularly those with recent disabilities -- see other veterans like themselves participating in these activities, Gibbings said they quickly realize that they can, too.
"They're not disabled," he said. "They're differently abled. And this program helps them realize they don't have to settle for a life of limitations. They can set their own limits."