Wolfowitz Honors Disabled Vets at Sports Clinic Opening
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., Apr. 4, 2005 Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called more than 350 disabled veterans gathered here "an inspiration to the rest of us" and praised them for demonstrating "courage and determination" as they work at rebuilding their lives.
Actress Bo Derek and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz chat with a participant in the 19th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, at Snowmass Village, Colo., April 3. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie Thurlby, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Wolfowitz joined the veterans for the 19th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, a program that helps veterans with disabilities push their limits and discover their capabilities.
The program, jointly sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Disabled American Veterans, is open to U.S. military veterans with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries to orthopedic amputations to visual impairment to neurological conditions.
During opening ceremonies for the clinic April 3, Wolfowitz thanked the veterans for their service and for contributing to "a cause greater than yourselves."
"You are all heroes," he told the veterans, who represented conflicts from World War II to current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Future generations, the deputy secretary said, "will all live in a better world because of the sacrifices you have made."
Wolfowitz paid special tribute to the nation's newest combat veterans, more than 60 veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom who joined their fellow veterans at the clinic.
He cited positive changes happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, including their historic national elections. "None of it could have happened without your sacrifices," Wolfowitz told the veterans.
As the veterans prepared to begin the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, the deputy secretary praised them for their willingness to push beyond their comfort zones to discover the challenges they can overcome.
"This is serious business," Wolfowitz told the participants. "It's about conquering fears and getting back to the active life you all had."
During the six-day program, the veterans will learn adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing. They'll also be introduced to other adaptive activities and sports, such as rock climbing, scuba diving, snowmobiling, horseback riding, handcycling and sled hockey.
More than 150 certified handicapped ski instructors and several current and former members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team will serve as instructors.
Among the instructors will be Dave Madsen, a newcomer to the clinic who's been teaching disabled people to ski for the last seven years. "When they catch on, they're just ecstatic," he said of his students. And as their instructor, Madsen said he finds himself "walking on air for a week, especially when I'm working with people who have never skied before."
While not a first-time skier, Army Pfc. Matt Pederson said he expects skiing might be a bit more challenging since he lost his right foot during an attack in Ramadi, Iraq, last November. "I think it may be a little harder balancing," he said.
Army Sgt. Andy Butterworth, who was medically retired from the North Carolina National Guard, said his skiing skills have actually improved since he lost his leg to a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq last November.
He said he had "a blast" during a trip to Windham Mountain in New York, when he skied with one leg. This time, he plans to ski with his prosthesis and attempt snowboarding. "It's gonna be fun," he said.
As the veterans learn new skills, Wolfowitz said, they'll also provide important lessons to those they encounter. "I know that the real teachers here will be the participants," the deputy secretary said. "You have so much to teach us."
DAV National Commander James Sursely encouraged participants to share their strength and inspiration with each other as they begin what he promised will be "a life-changing experience for everyone involved."