Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Louis
Stamatelos, second from right, severely wounded
during a deployment to Iraq, credits his
recovery to a positive mental mindset and the
support of older disabled veterans. Posing with
him at the 23rd National Disabled Veterans
Winter Sports Clinic at Snowmass Village, Colo.,
are, from left, Sandy Trombetta, founder and
director of the clinic; Ed Dusek, a former Army
combat engineer; and John Devine, a former
Marine who lost a leg to a mortar round in
|SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo.,
April 2, 2009
Marine Lance Cpl. Louis
Stamatelos realized he had two choices after
waking up two years ago with severe wounds in
the intensive care unit at the National Naval
Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Stamatelos admitted he “cracked and snapped”
after learning that he had lost half of his
right lung and the use of his right hand to a
sniper's round in July 2006 during a deployment
with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
A strapping 21-year-old who'd been at the top of
his game as a competitive four-wheeler, he felt
like his world had caved in on him. The
adrenaline-charged activities he'd enjoyed
seemed forever gone as he wondered if he'd ever
be able to do so much as open a soft drink can
or a refrigerator door.
That emotional low led to Stamatelos' day of
reckoning. “I realized that I could either sit
down and feel sorry for myself or make the best
of my situation,” he said.
Stamatelos, now 23, chose the latter.
“I'm up and kicking,” he said, fresh
off his snowboard after a run down Snowmass Mountain.
Stamatelos is among more than 400 disabled veterans here
participating in the 23rd National Disabled Veterans Winter
Sports clinic, more than one-third of them veterans of the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like himself.
As they tackle 16 inches of fresh powder snow that's fallen
during the last 48 hours alone, they're proving to
themselves and others that disabilities don't have to be
“You have to come to terms with what you've been through,
but basically it's your own positive attitude that gets you
through,” Stamatelos said. “If you want a better future, you
have to work for it -- and don't expect anybody to do it for
Stamatelos' can-do attitude is ever-present at the winter
sports clinic, where veterans of all ages are getting
introduced to adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, rock
climbing, scuba diving, trapshooting, wheelchair fencing,
sled hockey, snowmobiling and sled hockey, among other
The six-day program, which wraps up tomorrow, is jointly
sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled
American Veterans for veterans with disabilities ranging
from spinal cord injuries and orthopedic amputations to
visual impairment and neurological conditions.
For many former Walter Reed Army Medical Center patients,
the clinic is old-home week, an opportunity to catch up on
just how much each continued progressing since leaving the
hospital in Washington, D.C.
Among them is Roberto Cruz, an Army specialist wounded when
a sniper's bullet went through his arm and hit his spinal
cord while he was deployed to Tikrit, Iraq, with the 3rd
Infantry Division in August 2005.
“I was paralyzed, and they said I wouldn't walk again,” said
Cruz, now medically retired. He proved them wrong, and said
he takes pleasure in greeting fellow participants at the
clinic who he hasn't seen since giving up his wheelchair for
“It's really cool to see each other and show each other how
well we're doing,” he said.
Army Staff Sgt. Ramon Padillamunguia is among three current
patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center attending this
The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team soldier took an enemy
rocket-propelled grenade round at Firebase Phoenix 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.
Six surgeries later, 34-year-old Padillamunguia hopes to be
released from Walter Reed soon to possibly return to active
An avid athlete who has run the Army Ten-Miler in
Washington, completed the 26.2-mile Bataan Memorial Death
March at White Sands, N.M., and actually improved his golf
game since being wounded, he sees himself as an example to
his fellow wounded warriors at Walter Reed.
The younger troops have the most difficulty coping with
their disabilities, Padillamunguia said. “They want to be on
top of the world, so the important thing is to keep putting
pressure on them to get out there.”
“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
Opportunities like those at the winter sports clinic abound
for wounded warriors, as long as they're willing to take
advantage of them, Padillamunguia said.
“They don't hand everything to you on your lap, but it's all
out there,” he said. “The key is to take advantage of these
opportunities, network, find people who care and stay in
touch with them.
“Because even in this economic crisis, people are still
helping, still donating,” he said. “People want to help the
Padillamunguia said it's particularly eye-opening to see
older veterans -- some in their 80s -- pushing themselves
during the clinic. “It's just spectacular to see that,” he
said. “It's a real motivator that wows me as I go.”
Stamatelos joined Padillamunguia in crediting older veterans
he said have made a huge difference in his progress. “These
guys have done a lot for me, and helped me open a lot of
doors,” he said. “They've really taken me under their wing
and showed me the way ahead.”