America Supports You: Wounded Veterans Take On Snowboarding in Vail
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
VAIL, Colo., March 9, 2007 While many of their comrades learned to ski, three injured veterans hit the snowboard hill under instructors’ guidance yesterday.
Adaptive snowboard instructor Eric Norton (left) guides Army Spc. J.R. Salzman through the fundamentals of snowboarding March 8 during the first session of private lessons for wounded servicemembers participating in the Vail Veterans Program. Salzman lost his right arm in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The private lessons were the first of the Vail Veterans Program winter sports clinic here. The 25 veterans taking part in the clinic will get the chance to participate in two more private sessions before the clinic concludes March 11.
Though all three of the new snowboarders were severely injured while fighting in Iraq -- one is a below-the-knee amputee and the other two each lost an arm -- they came here excited to try this sport.
“It’s fun just knowing that you can do it,” Marine Lance Cpl. Corey Smith said. “I never think of anything as if I can’t do it.”
Smith, who lost his lower left leg while serving in Iraq’s Anbar province on Sept. 11, 2005, said he was doing well mastering the fundamentals of snowboarding. He said he’s ready to leave the “dog bowl,” where snowboarding lessons are taught, and head for bigger hills during the next lesson.
Army Spc. J.R. Salzman was feeling confident, as well.
“So far, so good,” Salzman, said. “I’ve only fallen a couple of times.”
Salzman, who first attempted snowboarding yesterday, lost his right arm below the elbow to a roadside bomb Dec. 19. He also lost the ring finger on his left hand.
But he credits his 22 years participating in professional lumberjack sports for yesterday’s successes. “I’ve been a (log roller) for 22 years,” the 27-year-old Salzman said. “It’s a lot of the same balance and a lot of the same movements.”
While the actual process of learning to take a heel edge ride down the hill wasn’t daunting for the veterans, other things can lead to anxiety. Salzman said being in a new place can bring insecurities to the surface.
“I know I speak for a lot of the guys, (being in a new place is) a bit unnerving, especially sleeping,” he said. “In Iraq you’ve always got security, and suddenly you’re in a new place you don’t have that sense of security.”
Along with helping the veterans overcome physical limitations, the Vail Veterans Program also works to help the veterans overcome these types of fears.
Salzman and Smith, along with Army Spc. Jeremiah Homuth, who lost his right arm June 13, impressed their instructors with their determination and heart during yesterday’s lesson.
“They’re just as good as any other athletic student I’ve ever had, regardless of their amputations,” Eric Norton, the veterans’ instructor and a former Marine, said. “I’m extremely pleased and very impressed with these guys.”
This is Norton’s first season working with amputees, but the former Marine said he feels his time served in Iraq helps him to understand his students’ mindset. “Having been in their shoes, having been to Iraq myself, I know exactly where these guys are coming from,” he said. “I’m just giving it all back to them.”
And the wounded combat veterans are grateful for his efforts. “He’s great. He’s not dumbing us down, and he’s working with our injuries,” Salzman said. “He teaches to your ability.”
Whether the veterans become proficient, though, is irrelevant to Norton. He just wants them to have a good time and remember that life continues.
“Just because something might happen, you don’t have to slow down. You don’t have to give up everything,” he said. “Even if they don’t learn to snowboard or ski, as long as they had a good time and tried and proved to themselves that they can still do things, the battle’s won.”