Wounded Marine Makes Discoveries at Winter Sports Clinic
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., April 5, 2007 U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Nick Bennett said he’ll take away lifetime memories and new discoveries from the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. He's counting on his experience here to steel him through his upcoming—and 27th--surgery since he was wounded in Mamadiyah, Iraq.
Marine Staff Sgt. Nick Bennett calls the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Snowmass, Colo., his “last big adventure” before his 27th surgery for wounds suffered in Iraq. Defense Dept. photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The 37-year-old Marine Corps Reservist said he’ll always remember the thrill of skiing down Snowmass Mountain and trying out all the other winter sports opened to him here. He’ll remember the friends he made here and the support of people who made this clinic possible. The clinic is co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans.
But the most important takeaway of all, he said, will be his chance to prove to himself, and to his family, what he can still do despite extensive shoulder, spinal, hand and leg injuries.
Bennett acknowledges he’s lucky to be alive after a 107mm rocket came careening over his Indianapolis unit’s base wall, only partially detonating. It should have flattened everything within a football field’s distance, he said.
While living through the blast, Bennett said a piece of him died that day—ironically, Veterans Day of 2004.
As he went through surgery after surgery to repair what medical officials call “polytrauma injuries,” it wasn’t the pain or the tedious rehabilitation that troubled him the most. It was thinking about what he could no longer do.
He remembered the joy he felt as a young boy playing softball with his dad, and realized he would never share that with his own children.
“To rob that of my kids just killed me,” he said. “It’s easy to sit around and feel sorry for yourself and feel like your life is over.”
His family rallied around him and did everything they could to care of him as he went through the long, difficult healing process. In some ways, he said they tried too hard to protect him.
“I liken it to a flower in a flowerpot,” Bennett said, turning philosophical. “At first, the people who love us the most don’t want to transfer us to a bigger pot. But our roots are still growing, and if we don’t move into that bigger pot, we’re going to end up dying.”
Coming here to the winter sports clinic was part of Bennett’s transplant into that bigger flowerpot.
As he swooshed down the mountain in his adaptive ski equipment, his 17-year-old son was on the same slope, learning to snowboard. “This is great because now I’ve found an activity that we can do together,” Bennett said.
Now he sees all kinds of possibilities ahead and activities he can share with his family. “Just because I’m injured doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do together as a family,” he said. “There’s still a whole lot I can do.”
That’s a revelation Bennett knows he’s sharing with other severely wounded troops and disabled veterans here, particularly those recently back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They don’t have a clue how much they will change this week, or how many doors are going to open for them,” he said.
Three years after his injury, Bennett said he’s still overwhelmed by the “fragility of life.”
He said he knows he and the other wounded troops here still have a long road ahead as they go through the healing process and face the next step in their lives.
“I’m taking one day at a time because nobody can predict what the future holds,” Bennett said. “I am going to wait and see what doors open up.”
As he prepares for April 13 surgery at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Bennett said he’ll take his experiences from the winter sports clinic along with him.
“This is my last big adventure for a bit,” he said as he rested on the slopeside, awaiting his next run down the mountain. “That’s why it’s pretty cool.”