Skip to comments.Disabled Vets Discover Miracle on Mountain
Posted on 03/30/2011 4:49:13 PM PDT by SandRat
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., March 30, 2011 Sheila James threw her arms up in joy, flashing a smile that stretched from ear to ear as she celebrated a personal victory during the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic here yesterday.
Encouraged by the staff at the Audie Murphy Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Antonio, where she receives care, James decided to give this years winter sports clinic a whirl.
The clinic, sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Department and Disabled American Veterans, introduces disabled veterans to a full range of winter sports activities to help them put their fears behind them and press their limits to accomplish what many thought they never could.
James decision wasnt an easy one; the last time she attempted skiing, before her accident, she had turned tail and run before ever hitting the chairlift. Yesterday afternoon, James resisted leaving her wheelchair for a high-tech-looking adaptive ski bucket. Her instructors, Andrea Hanson and Richelle Dube, persuaded her into the ski bucket, and kept her laughing as they loaded her onto the chairlift.
Then they led James on the trip of her lifetime - swooshing down Snowmass Mountain and leaving a trail of hoots, hollers and unabated glee in their wake.
I feel like I am floating! she exclaimed after conquering the mountain. Right now I feel like a big balloon. This is so awesome! I cant believe that I actually did it!
James experienced what Sandy Trombetta, founder of the winter sports clinic, calls the Miracle on the Mountainside.
Its that moment when a disabled veteran suddenly stops focusing on what he or she cant do and realizes a whole new world of possibilities. And its a regular occurrence at the winter sports clinic.
The miracle is something that happens within individuals, Trombetta said. It manifests itself not just here, but also after the veterans return home. What they learn here truly changes their lives, and it lasts forever.
For Elden Miller, a former Army sergeant blinded during a truck explosion at Fort Carson, Colo., the miracle comes while blazing independently down the wide-open spaces of Snowmass Mountain.
At home, I stare at the wall and cant even drive, Miller said. But here, Im totally free. Its an unbelievable experience.
For Stephen Bruggeman, a Coast Guard veteran whose leg was amputated after he was shot during a training accident, its learning to think outside the box and find new ways to tackle the challenges he confronts.
I can do the same things I used to do. I just have to do it in a different way, he said. Being here, you see that the possibilities for us are endless as long as we have an open and positive attitude and dont dwell on the disability.
For P.J. Pennington, a former Marine Corps sergeant rendered an incomplete paraplegic after being hit by an errant gunshot last year, the miracle means rising above self-imposed limitations.
This helps me realize theres so much I can still do, Pennington said as he unstrapped his helmet after a run down the mountain. I cant walk, but theres still so much I can do. Walking is just 10 percent, but Ive still got 90 percent. Its really a mental thing, and recognizing that is what makes all the difference.
For Army veteran Mark Thornton, paralyzed while refueling a truck at Fort Knox, Ky., its being released from his disability.
When youre skiing, you dont feel disabled. You forget about your disability, he said. It totally frees you because you are doing something you love, out of your chair.
As they discover the miracle on the mountain, the veterans say they have a great time doing it.
You get a natural high of Oh, wow! I just did that! said former Air Force Staff Sgt. Claudia Perry, who returned this year for her second winter sports clinic.
Theres so much to do here, what could you not love about this? agreed Navy veteran Matthew Robinson.
Its the skiing that brings me back, but its also the people here - the camaraderie of the other vets and the volunteers, said former Army Warrant Officer 1 Anthony Radetic.
Im loving it! agreed former Army Spc. Alejandro Calvo as volunteer instructors Steve Wanovich and Bryan Wood helped him navigate the deep powder at the top of the mountain.
Jake Hipps, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps lance corporal, returned this year for his eighth winter sports clinic.
What keeps me coming back is the miracle of the mountain, said Hipps, paralyzed by a gunshot wound.
Its so rewarding to come here and be able to experience that, but [also] to help share it with the younger veterans, he said. Its the chance to give back what older veterans freely gave us, and to see them realize that if they can do this, they can do anything.
National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic
Department of Veterans Affairs
Disabled American Veterans
Speechless. How can you ever repay someone for such a sacrifice.