Disabled Vets Expecting Miracles as Winter Sports Clinic Opens
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., Apr. 1, 2007 Some 450 disabled veterans converging here today -- about 100 of them wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan -- aren’t looking for April Fools pranks. They’re expecting miracles.
The veterans are kicking off the 21st National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, six days jam-packed with activities designed to push them to new heights and enhance their rehabilitation.
Veterans of past clinics -- and the people who have watched them show themselves and the world what they can still do — refer to what happens here as “Miracles on the Mountainside.”
Participants will learn Alpine and Nordic skiing and try their hands at rock climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, snowmobiling, sled hockey, wheelchair fencing and other activities.
In doing so, they’ll demonstrate that they’re not about to let an amputation, spinal cord injury, visual impairment or other severe disability get in the way of a full, productive life.
Among this year’s returnees is 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran David Vidana, already a walking miracle.
Vidana was shot in the head by a sniper in Baghdad in April 2003. He was considered dead for a full 12 hours before his caregivers were able to detect a faint pulse. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent, happened to be embedded with Vidana’s unit at the time, and performed the surgery that saved his life. “I know it’s a miracle that I’m alive,” Vidana said.
His recovery has been miraculous as well. Just one year after teetering on the brink of death, he came to his first winter sports clinic here. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to walk, and then a year later, I was snowboarding!” he said.
Bradley Barton, national commander of Disabled American Veterans, which cosponsors the program with the Department of Veterans Affairs, said experiences like Vidana’s are common during the winter sports clinic.
“It is truly a miracle to see the transformation take place on the mountain as these men and women push themselves to the limit and rehabilitate both body and mind,” he said.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson shared Barton’s assessment, calling the participants’ courage and determination “examples for us all.”
Participants range in age from their late teens to their 80s and served in every conflict since World War II. All receive care from a VA health-care facility.
They understand each other in a special way, and it’s that bond as much as the thrills and gratification they get here that keeps many coming back, year after year.
“At previous clinics, I met other Marines from other conflicts with different types of injuries, who shared great insight and perspective,” Vidana said as he anticipated this week’s clinic. “It helps with meeting people who understand your injury.”
Faoa “Ap” Apineru, a Marine who suffered a traumatic brain injury when an improvised explosive device exploded nearby during a road-clearing mission in Iraq in May 2005, is attending his first winter sports clinic and looks forward to that interaction.
“I think it’s positive to share something positive and social with other veterans,” said Apineru, who was medically retired as a staff sergeant.
“The reason the clinic is important starts with camaraderie,” he said. “Events like this boost morale and give us an idea that there truly are people out there who care for us.”
Army veteran Joseph Hineman, at 84, is among the oldest participants in this year’s clinic, but knows he has a lot to share with younger and more recently disabled veterans.
After surviving the Battle of the Bulge, Hineman was hit by shrapnel from a German mortar in October 1944 while his unit was trying to capture the bridge at Ramagan over the Rhine River. He lost his left leg above the knee.
He said he looks forward to sharing his insights and his positive philosophy with the younger veterans he meets here.
“We share a generational bond, because even through I’m much older, I can identify with them psychologically and physiologically because of our similar injuries,” he said.