Wounded warriors take on Rocky Mountains
April 27, 2009
DENVER (Army News Service, April 27, 2009) -- Nearly 400 disabled veterans and injured Soldiers participated in a winter sports clinic earlier this month in Snowmass Village, just outside of Aspen. Colo.
The Army was well represented at the 23rd National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, March 29 - April 3. Almost half the participants were Army veterans with service ranging from World War II to the present. Forty-four of the Army veterans had recent service in Iraq and Afghanistan, with five of the participants having served in both conflicts.
Three current patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were among the disabled veterans joining in at this year's clinic, including 34-year-old Staff Sgt. Ramon Padillamunguia.
Padillamunguia was serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team when he was hit with an enemy rocket-propelled grenade round near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan in July 2007. The blast severed his left arm just below the left elbow and inflicted a moderate traumatic brain injury.
Padillamunguia, who hopes to return to active duty following his release from Walter Reed, was eager for the opportunity to participate in the Winter Sports Clinic.
"The key is to take advantage of these opportunities, network, find people who care and stay in touch with them," said Padillamunguia.
Padillamunguia is encouraging other veterans coping with injuries.
"It's important to keep putting pressure on them to get out there," he said. "I'm taking lots of pictures and video to take back and show them so I can say, 'I was in your shoes, but look where I am now.'"
Army veteran Joel Hunt from Denver Colorado was another first-time participant at the winter sports clinic this year. He was a demolition specialist in Iraq who sustained a traumatic brain injury from an IED explosion.
"I wanted to attend the Winter Sports Clinic to show other disabled veterans that there is more to do in life than sit in their homes and mope," said Hunt. "The only way to tackle a brain injury is to set goals and believe in yourself when no one else does."
Javier Torres, 25, sustained three gunshot wounds in the leg while serving in Afghanistan in 2005. He could not walk for more than a year following surgery.
"I had lower self-esteem," said Torres. "I thought I was going to have to face what I could not do anymore."
This year he learned to snowboard at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
Torre admitted that he had initial concerns about the clinic.
"I was worried about skis, if I would want to turn one way and my ankle would want to turn another," he said. "With the snowboard, both my legs are forced to go the same direction!"
Torres also enjoyed the chance to "tear it up" on snowmobiles and swim in a heated outdoor pool during a snow storm.
Sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Disabled American Veterans, the six-day clinic is now the largest rehabilitation event of its kind in the world.
In addition to adaptive skiing, the clinic also provides access to a large variety of alternate activities including scuba diving, sled hockey, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, rock climbing, trap shooting, curling, wheelchair fencing, golf and more - plus instructional workshops such as adaptive self-defense, taught by U. S. Secret Service personnel.
For more information about the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic please visit: http://www.wintersportsclinic.va.gov.
(Elaine Buehler serves with the Department of Veterans Affair.)