Winter rehabilitation clinic shows veterans potential

  • Published
  • By Ryan Mattox
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
More than 400 disabled veterans this year are pushing themselves to the limits by taking part in the Department of Veterans Affairs' 23rd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Snowmass Village, Colo.
The clinic, a six-day event that began March 28, teaches veterans with disabilities skills in adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, and introduces them to a number of other recreational activities and sports.

Veterans can participate in rock climbing, scuba diving, trap shooting, sled hockey and additional events and workshops. The annual rehabilitation program is open to veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological problems and other disabilities, who receive their care at a VA medical facility or military treatment center. 

The participants include veterans from all eras, from World War II to the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  According to VA officials, it is the largest adaptive event of its kind in the world. 

One of those participants enjoying what the clinic has to offer is Senior Airman Kevin Krogh, an F-22 Raptor weapons loader from Langley Air Force Base, Va. Airman Krogh was injured in a car accident in March 2007, leaving him with both his legs amputated below the knees. 

Prior to his accident and joining the Air Force, Airman Krogh was an avid snowboarder and snowmobiler in Minnesota. While going through therapy at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Airman Krogh learned about the winter sports clinic and decided to make the journey and give it a shot. 

"I came here alone," he said.  "I wasn't too sure about anything, I didn't know who to talk to, who I was going to meet.  But when I got here and saw the people enjoying themselves and volunteers helping everyone, I became comfortable." 

With much anticipation, Airman Krogh said after months of intensive therapy doing the same activities, he decided he wanted to do something different than running and walking every day. He also wanted to meet new people and be in a different environment. 

"I never thought I would be out here skiing without legs and enjoying it," Airman Krogh said. "Also playing hockey for the first time as well, I thought I would never be doing that and it sure makes me feel real good about it." 

To help those veterans overcome any obstacles they may have, more than 200 certified ski instructors for the disabled and several current and former members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team are assigned to them as instructors to teach and assist with the needs of the veterans. 

After receiving some equipment and instruction, Airman Krogh tackled the sled hockey event. 

"The sled hockey event is tough at first," he said. "I fell down constantly; backward, sideways.  Anyway you can fall, I did.  During the game, they adjusted my sled and I was fine after that. Even though I didn't score, my team still won.  It was great and I had fun." 

The idea for the sports clinic began in the early 1980s when a local recreation therapist began bringing VA patients to a nearby mountain resort to participate in disabled ski programs. 

Through his patients, Sandy Trombetta, director of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, recognized the physical and mental healing that skiing and other winter sports can provide to veterans. 

"I began working with one veteran and when I saw the profound effect adaptive skiing had on him and I knew if it worked for him I knew it would work for others," Mr. Trombetta said. "Basically, use skiing and what skiing does to their attitudes and their whole outlook on life and get them exposed a lot of other activities." 

The winter sports clinic started in 1987 with roughly 90 veterans who were eager to learn to ski using adaptive ski equipment, and 20 staff members who helped them participate in a variety of activities and workshops helping them overcome their particular disabilities. 

Airman Krogh said working on his balance was what he wanted to work on while here. 

"It's been real tough," he said.  "I have gone through so much blood and tears and I have gotten past some tough hurdles and I am real excited about what I have done.  I am enjoying myself and being here is part of my therapy so I like it a lot. These activities help me work with my balance and that is important." 

After 23 years of running the event, Mr. Trombetta said he is energized by seeing the anticipation in the eyes of the veterans as they go about their day, watching volunteers and participants coming together with the excitement of really wanting to make a difference in this event is what makes the event successful. 

"I have my down times when I fall when I am walking, but being here really makes me happy," Airman Krogh said. "I see people who have been paralyzed all their lives and seeing them doing the same activities I am doing, really puts a smile on my face. If I am invited again next year, I would definitely do it again." 

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