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America Supports You: Wounded Veterans Ski Vail’s Slopes

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

VAIL, Colo., March 10, 2007 – Walter Reed Army Medical Center patients participating in the Vail Veterans Program’s winter sports clinic took their newfound skiing skills to the next level here yesterday.

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Sgt. Anthony Larson, his adaptive ski instructor close behind, skis down the beginner’s hill on his mono-ski March 9 in Vail, Colo. Larson lost his right leg below the knee while serving in Iraq. The private mono-ski lesson is part of the Vail Veterans Program’s winter sports clinic. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
  

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As Army Sgt. Dennis Cline finished his last run on the “bunny hill,” he reflected on the progress he’d made from his first private lesson the day before.

“I thought I was going to be a little bit off-whack,” Cline, who lost his left arm below the elbow Sept. 11, 2006, while serving in Afghanistan, said. “When I got here, my instructor taught me to ski without a pole and use your balance and use your body more to do stuff.”

The self-proclaimed “outdoor freak” has gained a lot of confidence with the lessons. “We’re going to try to get up on … top of the mountain,” Cline said.

Dave Callahan, an adaptive ski instructor who has worked with the Vail Veterans Program since the beginning, said progress doesn’t always come as quickly as the veterans would like. He was working with Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Gansner, who was a skier before a July 28 bomb blast in Iraq shattered both of Gansner’s heels as well as damaging the knee cap and both bones in his lower right leg.

“I think that he wasn’t sure how much learning would be involved in mono-skiing,” Callahan said. “Because he was a skier before, he figured he’d just take off.”

A lot of the movements are similar, but a lot of them are different enough that it’s like starting over, Callahan added. “Once he starts getting his turns down, he’ll start to make comparisons to stand-up skiing,” he said.

Gansner said he’s lucky to not have lost any limbs but that he still has a lot of pain. Having been a skier for most of his life, he said he’s excited about the prospect of skiing again, despite the pain.

“That was one of my concerns, actually, when I was in the hospital was that I wouldn’t be able to (ski) again,” he said. “I was very excited to get out here and I was excited to mono-ski, too.”

Though he can still stand and walk, Gansner chose to use a mono-ski to spare his joints some of the jarring experienced with regular skis. “It’s going good,” Gansner said. “I’m just not as good on it yet as I was on my skis.”

Once Gansner had mastered turns and speed control on the mono-ski, Callahan planned to take the veteran further up the mountain where he could put his newly honed skills to use on more difficult terrain.

Cline said he was amazed at the outpouring of support from the community.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Whether the people really support the reason or the cause (of the war), … 99 percent of the time they support the soldiers, (and) I’d rather them support us and not care about the reason.”

The Vail community has embraced the veterans, providing free lodging, meals, equipments, lift tickets and lessons. Cheryl Jenson, director of the Vail Veterans Program, said that 90 percent of the airfare was donated as well.

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Related Sites:
Vail Veterans Program
America Supports You

Related Articles:
America Supports You: Veterans Spend Down Time Tubing with Spouses, Guests
Colorado Town Welcomes Wounded Troops
America Supports You: Wounded Veterans Take On Snowboarding in Vail


Click photo for screen-resolution imageAdaptive ski instructor Dave Callahan and Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Gansner take the chair lift to the top of the beginner’s hill in Vail, Colo., on March 9, 2007 in Vail, Colo. A bomb blast shattered both of Gansner’s heels and damaged the knee cap and both bones in his lower right leg. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageWillow Fesmire steadies her husband’s mono-ski while he straps himself in March 9 in Vail, Colo. Former Marine Sgt. Christopher Fesmire was medically retired after losing both legs above the knee while serving in Iraq in October 2004. This is his fourth trip to the Vail Veterans Program. Now he returns as a mentor for first-time participants.Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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