National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

Article excerpt

Participation in sports and recreational activities can significantly effect an individual's well-being and overall quality of life. A regular exercise program strengthens the musculoskeletal system, improves cardiovascular function, and helps prevent and treat medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and obesity [1-3]. Participation in sports also decreases symptoms of mild depression, promotes well-being, and improves social skills [4]. Within the disabled veteran community, the benefits of sports and exercise may be exponential. By improving physical condition, function, and psychological well-being, intensive sports and exercise may greatly improve the long-term prognosis for patients with disabilities.

Healthcare practitioners should be aware of the opportunities for sports and recreational activities available to their patients. Today, numerous opportunities exist for individuals with disabilities, although many are still hampered by barriers such as limited access and lack of awareness. The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is one example of an event that has been successful in breaking down these barriers, thanks to its numerous public and private supporters and the leadership of its organizer Santo "Sandy" Trombetta (pictured below).

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The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is currently the

largest rehabilitative program of its kind in the world and includes adapted physical activities as well as workshops and educational sessions that aid in the rehabilitation of severely disabled veterans. Activities such as Alpine and Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, scuba diving, fly-fishing, wheelchair golf, wheelchair self-defense, rock wall climbing, sled hockey, trapshooting, blues harmonica instruction, dogsledding, goal ball for the visually impaired, wheelchair fencing, and amputee volleyball are only a small number of the adapted sports and activities that have been offered over the past 20 years.

Set in recent years in Snow Mass, Colorado, near Aspen, the clinic targets disabled veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, neurological disorders, and visual impairments to improve physical well-being, mental health, and self-esteem with the ultimate goal of enabling veterans with profound disabilities to rediscover life after disability. The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic helps veterans achieve higher levels of self-actualization and empowers them to live a happier, healthier, and more productive lifestyle.

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It is no wonder that the program has such a beneficial effect on its participants. Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise on patients with disabilities and have found associated improvements in physical and psychological wellness. For example, one study of individuals with multiple sclerosis found a direct correlation between improvement in exercise ability and psychological wellbeing [5]. While determining what aspect of exercise may be causing these improvements is difficult, some researchers have postulated that they are directly related to improvements in chronic pain and fatigue [6]. In a comparison study of wheelchair athletes and nonathletes, athletes scored far lower than nonathletes in depression when administered a Profile of Mood States [7]. Patients who exercise may also experience positive influences from the environment created through cooperative sports. Being surrounded by their peers, interacting with others, and witnessing their own improvement in abilities may all play a vital role. In addition, patients are often uplifted when they are able to return to activities that they participated in prior to their injury or illness. No matter what the reason, sports and recreation are clearly a vital part of the lives of many persons with disabilities [8].

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Despite the apparent evidence that sports and exercise can help improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic was not readily accepted by conventional healthcare philosophy when it was introduced in 1987. …