America Supports You: Sports Clinic Opens for Disabled Veterans
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., March 31, 2008 Sixty-seven veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are among 400 disabled veterans who converged here yesterday to kick off the world’s largest disabled ski clinic.
Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield praises participants at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic for applying the same qualities of dedication, pride and self-worth they demonstrated during their military service to their rehabilitation. Photo by Sgt. KaRonda Fleming, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield and Robert T. Reynolds, national commander of Disabled American Veterans, opened the 22nd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic last night.
The annual six-day program, jointly sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans, helps disabled veterans discover abilities many never knew they had or thought they’d lost.
Mansfield and Reynolds, both disabled veterans themselves, applauded participants for their willingness to push beyond their comfort zones to discover the challenges they can overcome.
“I encourage you to make the most of this,” Reynolds told first-timers at the event, encouraging them to follow the lead of veterans of past winter sports clinics. “Look for inspiration in your fellow veterans, and you will find it quickly,” he said.
Reynolds recalled his own first experience at the clinic after a disabling skydiving accident left him withdrawn and doubtful about his capabilities. He said he remembers “leaving this mountain a changed man,” with a new sense of freedom and self-worth. “I hope the same sense of hope and confidence I gained through this event will reach you as well,” he told the veterans.
Mansfield saluted the participants for applying the same qualities of dedication, pride and self-worth they demonstrated during their military service to their rehabilitation.
“You met and adapted to life-changing circumstances,” he said. “You are a source of pride to all Americans. … You have already demonstrated that you are men and women of great courage.”
The winter sports clinic is open to U.S. military veterans with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries and orthopedic amputations to visual impairment and neurological conditions. Veterans who receive health care at a VA medical facility get first priority to attend.
Participants learn adaptive skiing with mono-skis and bi-skis, as well as Alpine and Nordic skiing techniques. More advanced skiers get innovative race training designed to identify world-class disabled skiers with potential to become Paralympic athletes.
But the clinic isn’t limited to skiing. Participants are introduced to a variety of other activities and sports, including rock climbing, snowshoeing, golf, scuba diving, trapshooting, snowmobiling, sled hockey and fencing. Between their scheduled sports activities, the veterans will enjoy concerts, dances, gondola rides, a trip to a local hot springs, and educational and instructional workshops.
From start to finish, the clinic gives disabled veterans the red-carpet treatment. Yesterday afternoon, local restaurants hosted a “Taste of Snowmass” event in the town center, treating participants to their specialties. Douglas Mercatoris, Snowmass Village mayor, proclaimed the veterans honorary citizens and called them “the guardian angels of Snowmass Village, Colorado and the United States.”
Sandy Trombetta, the VA’s national director for the clinic, said that even with their biggest turnout ever, the clinic staffers will continue strive to reach every participant in an individual way.
“We want each and every one person to have the best experience they could hope for,” he said.
Trombetta said he had no idea that his concept of a winter sports clinic would blossom into such a resounding success. “It’s the greatest show on earth,” he said, not just for the transformation it evokes in participants, but also in the way it brings together people who want to support them.
“None of this is possible without the power of all the people who make it happen,” Trombetta said. He pointed to the sponsors who help finance the activities and volunteers who return year after year, giving up vacation time and paying their own way to get here to work with the veterans. Among them are more than 200 certified adaptive ski instructors, including current and former members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team.
“They all want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” he said. “What you see here is people really giving back to others. It still leaves me awestruck.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary James B. Peake shared Trombetta’s enthusiasm about the benefits the clinic brings veterans and the forum it creates for them to support and inspire each other. He is slated to attend the closing ceremonies and award presentations April 4.
“Each year this clinic enhances the physical, social and emotional well-being of the veterans who participate in this life-changing event,” Peake said. “Not only does the clinic motivate veterans, young and old, to reach for their full potential and enjoy a higher quality of life, but it also gives them a strong sense of purpose and camaraderie with their fellow veterans.”
Among this year’s participants is Alan “Doc” Babin, a 27-year-old Army veteran who was among the first soldiers injured in Iraq, in March 2003. The former 82nd Airborne Division medic was rushing to the aid of a fellow soldier when he was hit several times by small-arms fire. The bullets tore through his abdomen, damaging about 90 percent of his stomach, threatening his survival.
But after more than 70 surgeries and numerous hospital stays, Babin is back at the winter sports clinic and ready to challenge himself again.
“I want to reunite with friends from last year and continue receiving the good therapy the mountain provides,” he said. “The clinic gives me a sense of peacefulness.”