Magazine article Soldiers Magazine

Miracles on a Mountainside: ... from the Warmth of Puerto Rico to a Snowy Mountain in Colorado

Magazine article Soldiers Magazine

Miracles on a Mountainside: ... from the Warmth of Puerto Rico to a Snowy Mountain in Colorado

Article excerpt

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ARMY veteran Javier Torres recently traveled from the warmth of Puerto Rico to a snowy mountain in Colorado for some major life-changing experiences. "My eyes have been opened to discovering that there is a whole new world to experience out there," he said.

Torres participated in the 23rd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, a world leader in promoting rehabilitation to injured veterans. At the event, held March 29 to April 3, in Snowmass Village, Colo., 370 participants with disabilities received instruction in adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing. They were also introduced to a number of other adaptive recreational activities and sports. For many newly injured veterans, including those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, the clinic provided not only their first experience in winter sports, but also an inspiration to take their rehabilitation to a higher level.

While serving with the infantry in Afghanistan in 2005, Torres received three gunshot wounds during an ambush on his convoy. Though one would never guess the extent of his injuries from his positive attitude, his wounds resulted in severe nerve damage in one leg, no control over an ankle, sensitivity issues (similar to an electric current) through portions of his body and constant pain. During his rehabilitation, a physical therapist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center told Torres, 25, about the annual clinic. It sounded like a great idea, Torres said, and he followed up on the suggestion. He was one of 116 first-time participants at this year's event.

Although he was hesitant initially, Torres' mountainside experience has given him a newfound love of snowboarding. Driving a snowmobile, trying archery and shooting skeet were some other exciting firsts for this Operation Enduring Freedom veteran who never held a gun before joining the Army.

"During the clinic registration I even saw a friend I had gone through a great deal of rehab with, but we had lost contact. The camaraderie all week was great, and it was like a reunion with others who have done what we have done," said Torres, a Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico native. "At the clinic, I even swam in a heated outdoor pool during a blizzard and made a snow angel in my swimsuit. Thanks to this opportunity to try some new things, I can't wait for my baby girl to snowboard and do sports with her daddy. The clinic gives veterans like myself the opportunity to accomplish something new. You can do anything if you really want to."

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Disabled American Veterans sponsor the clinic each year, with financial assistance from corporate sponsors and individual donors. Participation is open to U.S. military service veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological problems and other disabilities. Veterans who receive health care at a VA medical facility have first priority to participate. In addition, a number of active military personnel from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom also attended.

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More than 200 certified ski instructors for the disabled, as well as several current and former members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, serve as ski instructors to meet the unique needs of the participants. This year, the clinic received additional support from more than 450 volunteers. For the third year, a race training and development program helped veterans develop their skiing abilities to an elite level, with an ultimate goal of qualifying for the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team.

The Army was well represented at the 2009 winter sports clinic, with 179 participants (including both veterans and active-duty servicemembers). Sixteen of the 29 female participants were Army veterans. The ages of the participants ranged from the youngest, Byron Henson, 22, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., to the oldest, Horace "Jim" Baugh, 87, of Idaho Falls, Idaho. …

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