Shinseki urges disabled vets to conquer mountain, doubts

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki opened the 24th Annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic here March 28, encouraging participants to conquer the mountain and prove to themselves what they're able to achieve.

Secretary Shinseki challenged more than 400 disabled veterans participating in the six-day clinic to move beyond their personal comfort zones and press their limits as they learn adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing and try their hand at rock climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, snowmobiling, sled hockey, wheelchair fencing and other activities.

In doing so, he urged them to seek answers to two questions: "What's possible?" and "Can I do more than I think?"

The answers could become life-changing, he said, noting several disabled veterans who faced doubts about what they could do but proved their potential by earning positions on the 2010 U.S. Paralympic team.

"Life may have changed for these athletes, but they did not," Secretary Shinseki said, calling on veterans at the winter sports clinic to be inspired by their example.

Secretary Shinseki said he recognizes that for some participants, especially first-timers, pressing beyond their comfort level is a threatening proposition. He urged them to put any concerns aside and take advantage of every opportunity offered to them at the clinic.

"This week is about making you feel good about yourself, so do it all," he told them. "You are going to feel the exhilaration and healing power of these mountains."

Calling the clinic an extension of "the superb rehabilitative care" veterans receive at VA medical facilities across the country, Secretary Shinseki said it should be more than just a week of adventure and fun.

"It's about deciding how you live the other 51 weeks of the year," he said. "So let's go conquer that mountain!"

The clinic, co-sponsored by the VA Department and Disabled American Veterans, is open to U.S. military veterans being treated at VA facilities for traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, neurological problems and other disabilities. 

DAV National Commander Roberto Barrera called the clinic a highlight of the year for many of the nation's most profoundly disabled veterans.

"There is no event that comes close, either in terms of participation or the availability of rehabilitative events for the veterans who make the journey," he said.

While pushing their limits during a full range of activities this week, the veterans also will get to mingle with 2010 Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller and five-time Olympic Alpine skier Casey Puckett.

Retired Army Cpl. Alan Babin, who was seriously wounded in March 2003 while serving in Iraq, is among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan participating in this year's event. Corporal Babin, a medic with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry, was rushing to aid a wounded solder when he was hit by small-arms fire that blasted through his stomach.

"I wasn't expected to survive after I was shot," said Corporal Babin, who endured more than 70 surgeries and spent two and a half years in hospitals, unconscious most of the time.

As he returns to his third winter sports clinic, Corporal Babin has proven the value of never giving up. He has competed in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, medaling in quad rugby, and a motorized wheelchair rally. He also reached his personal weightlifting record.

"You have to keep moving along and find your new normal," he said.