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Winter Sports Clinic Pushes Wounded Troops to New Heights

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., April 6, 2007 – Sgt. Luke Murphy stretched out his prosthetic leg as he sat on the ground beneath the ski roster hoping beyond hope that someone would be a no-show and he’d get their slot for another spin down the mountain.

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Army Cpl. Shane Parsons, a 4th Infantry Division soldier who lost both legs and suffered a traumatic brain injury in Ramadi, Iraq, shimmies up the rock-climbing wall at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo. Photo by John Buehler

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The 101st Airborne Division soldier lost his leg to a roadside bomb during a patrol in Baghdad’s Sadr City last April. A year later, he’s among about 100 troops seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan here for the 21st National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. Many, like Murphy, are still patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The six-day event that continues through tomorrow is jam-packed with activities designed to push them to new heights and enhance their rehabilitation. Participants learn Alpine and Nordic skiing and try their hands at rock climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, snowmobiling, sled hockey, wheelchair fencing, curling and other activities.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said the clinic helps show some 400 participants with spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or other severe disabilities that they can still live full, productive lives. The VA and Disabled American Veterans have cosponsored the program since 1987.

“There are so many reasons this is important,” Nicholson said during a slopeside chat with American Forces Press Service. He paused to watch veterans and wounded troops shred the snow-covered mountain and scuba dive in the nearby pool, then continued his thought. “This gives the participants a renewed hope, a new sense of mobility and the freedom of accomplishment.”

Murphy had none of those feelings when he signed up to come here about six months ago. “I was in pretty bad shape,” he said.

He’s quickly overcome any initial misgivings. Murphy’s as amazed as anyone that he’s skiing, especially on the challenging adaptive mono ski that requires a lot of strength and balance—and can’t get enough of it. “You’ve got your mobility and your freedom back. I feel like I can move like I used to move,” he said. “So I’m gonna ski as much as they’ll let me.”

Cpl. James Stuck, another 101st Airborne Division soldier at the clinic, shares Murphy’s disability; he lost his right leg to a roadside bomb while providing security for engineers in Kirkuk, Iraq. But Stuck also shares Murphy’s zest for the opportunities opened here.

Stuck was skiing just five weeks after being wounded five days before Christmas of 2005, and he skied again during last year’s winter sports clinic.

This year, however, he opted out of skiing for fear an injury might sideline him from an upcoming track meet. He’s set his sights on making both the U.S. Paralympic track and volleyball teams. “I’m in training,” he said. “I don’t want to risk anything happening.”

Observing simply isn’t Stuck’s style, so he’s throwing himself into lots of other activities here, testing himself every step of the way. “I’m way too competitive to just sit around,” he said.

Stuck called the winter sports clinic and his other athletic pursuits a big part of his rehabilitation as he gets on with his life. “It helps you mentally,” he said. “It lets you know that the only limitations you have are the ones you put on yourself. Nothing should stop you.”

That’s a lesson Cpl. Shane Parsons is learning during his first winter sports clinic. The 4th Infantry Division soldier lost both legs and suffered a traumatic brain injury when an explosively formed projectile round detonated near him in Ramadi, Iraq.

Six months later, as he prepares for his transfer from Walter Reed to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, Parsons found himself shimmying up a rock-climbing wall at the clinic.

Amid hoots and hollers from the crowd assembled around the tower, many in wheelchairs or standing on prosthetic legs, Parsons reached the top. He rang the bell, drawing cheers and promises of free beers.

“This is awesome!” he exclaimed as his belay untied his harness at the bottom of the tower.

That’s Dallas Chambless’ assessment of the sports clinic, too. The 3rd Infantry Division soldier arrived safely home from his second deployment to Iraq, only to suffer an irreversible spinal cord injury two days later in a motorcycle accident.

Once a black-diamond skier, Chambless is back on skis this week for the first time since his Dec. 25, 2005 accident. “This is a heck of a blast,” he said. “The way I see it, I want to reach for the stars.”

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDallas Chambless, a U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division sergeant who suffered a spinal cord injury two days after returning home from his second deployment to Iraq, prepares to take a run down Snowmass Mountain during the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo. Defense Dept. photo by Donna Miles  
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