Disabled veterans sports clinic opens in Colorado

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary W. Scott Gould called on more than 350 disabled veterans March 27 to strive for new heights as they participate here this week in the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

Speaking during opening ceremonies alongside Vice President Joe Biden and Disabled American Veterans National Commander Wally Tyson, Gould praised the success of what has grown to become the world's largest disabled winter sports event.

"Those of you who have been here before know why," he told this year's participants, many of whom have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Those of you who are new to the clinic will soon know. There is something here for everyone."

The clinic, jointly sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Department and DAV, uses recreation as a rehabilitative tool for veterans with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries and orthopedic amputations to visual impairment and neurological conditions.

As they learn adaptive alpine and nordic skiing and get introduced to rock climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, curling, snowmobiling and sled hockey during a five-day program, the veterans' eyes get opened to a whole new world of opportunity.

"It is all about redefining possibilities in the life of a seriously wounded veteran," Gould said. "This set of events here is all about creating that moment where a veteran looks up at the hill and feels in the pit of their stomach, 'I don't know if I can do this," whether because it's a whole new experience or a first return to the mountain with a disability.

"It is all about the camaraderie and the teamwork and the coaxing and the safety and the training and coaching that leads that person to get in the chairlift for the first time and go to the top of the hill," Gould said.

"And that moment is very important. It is an experiential kind of learning," he added. "And it moves the veteran from a clinic environment ... to one in which they are guiding their own recovery."

Those lessons, he said, will remain with the participants long after they leave Snowmass Mountain and the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

"They figure out what they can do next -- the next move, the next challenge," Gould said. "And maybe they take a look at Aspen and say, 'Life has some beautiful qualities to it. My life is changed, but not over.'"

Tyson relayed his own experience participating in the clinic and its power in helping disabled veterans focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities.

"You will face challenges," he told the group, warning that they're likely to come away from the experience tired, sore, and perhaps even with a few bruises.

"But you will come out of it stronger in every possible way," Tyson said.

Biden made a surprise appearance at last night's opening ceremony. The previous day he'd thanked the hundreds of volunteers and staff members that work to make the sports clinic a success.

Snowmass Village rolled out the red carpet to the participants, hosting the annual "Taste of Aspen" as the event kicked off.