Disabled Vets Discover Miracle on Mountain
(April 3, 2011)
Navy veteran Matthew Robinson discovers the “Miracle on the Mountain” at the 25th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Colorado's Snowmass Mountain, March 29, 2011. “There's so much to do here, what could you not love about this?” he asked.
SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo., March 30, 2011 – Sheila
James threw her arms up in joy, flashing a smile
that stretched from ear to ear as she celebrated
a personal victory during the 25th National
Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic here
A motor vehicle rollover in
2009 turned the former Air Force senior airman's
life upside-down, landing her in a wheelchair
and leaving her unable to do some of the
simplest things she once took for granted.
Encouraged by the staff at the Audie Murphy
Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Antonio,
where she receives care, James decided to give
this year's winter sports clinic a whirl.
The clinic, sponsored by the Veterans
Affairs Department and Disabled American
Veterans, introduces disabled veterans to a full
range of winter sports activities to help them
put their fears behind them and press their
limits to accomplish what many thought they
James' decision wasn't an
easy one; the last time she attempted skiing,
before her accident, she had turned tail and run
before ever hitting the chairlift. Yesterday
afternoon, James resisted leaving her wheelchair
for a high-tech-looking adaptive ski bucket. Her
Andrea Hanson and Richelle Dube, persuaded her
into the ski bucket, and kept her laughing as
they loaded her onto the chairlift.
Then they led James on the trip of her lifetime -– swooshing
down Snowmass Mountain and leaving a trail of hoots, hollers
and unabated glee in their wake.|
“I feel like I am
floating!” she exclaimed after conquering the mountain.
“Right now I feel like a big balloon. This is so awesome! I
can't believe that I actually did it!”
experienced what Sandy Trombetta, founder of the winter
sports clinic, calls the “Miracle on the Mountainside.”
It's that moment when a disabled veteran suddenly stops
focusing on what he or she can't do and realizes a whole new
world of possibilities. And it's a regular occurrence at the
winter sports clinic.
“The miracle is something that
happens within individuals,” Trombetta said. “It manifests
itself not just here, but also after the veterans return
home. ... What they learn here truly changes their lives, and
it lasts forever.”
For Elden Miller, a former Army
sergeant blinded during a truck explosion at Fort Carson,
Colo., the miracle comes while blazing independently down
the wide-open spaces of Snowmass Mountain.
I stare at the wall and can't even drive,” Miller said. “But
here, I'm totally free. It's an unbelievable experience.”
For Stephen Bruggeman, a Coast Guard veteran whose leg
was amputated after he was shot during a training accident,
it's learning to “think outside the box” and find new ways
to tackle the challenges he confronts.
“I can do the
same things I used to do. I just have to do it in a
different way,” he said. “Being here, you see that the
possibilities for us are endless as long as we have an open
and positive attitude and don't dwell on the disability.”
For P.J. Pennington, a former Marine Corps sergeant
rendered an incomplete paraplegic after being hit by an
errant gunshot last year, the miracle means rising above
“This helps me realize
there's so much I can still do,” Pennington said as he
unstrapped his helmet after a run down the mountain. “I
can't walk, but there's still so much I can do. Walking is
just 10 percent, but I've still got 90 percent. It's really
a mental thing, and recognizing that is what makes all the
For Army veteran Mark Thornton,
paralyzed while refueling a truck at Fort Knox, Ky., it's
being released from his disability.
skiing, you don't feel disabled. You forget about your
disability,” he said. “It totally frees you because you are
doing something you love, out of your chair.”
discover the miracle on the mountain, the veterans say they
have a great time doing it.
“You get a natural high
of ‘Oh, wow! I just did that!'” said former Air Force Staff
Sgt. Claudia Perry, who returned this year for her second
winter sports clinic.
“There's so much to do here,
what could you not love about this?” agreed Navy veteran
“It's the skiing that brings me
back, but it's also the people here –- the camaraderie of
the other vets and the volunteers,” said former Army Warrant
Officer 1 Anthony Radetic.
“I'm loving it!” agreed
former Army Spc. Alejandro Calvo as volunteer instructors
Steve Wanovich and Bryan Wood helped him navigate the deep
powder at the top of the mountain.
Jake Hipps, a
Vietnam-era Marine Corps lance corporal, returned this year
for his eighth winter sports clinic.
“What keeps me
coming back is the miracle of the mountain,” said Hipps,
paralyzed by a gunshot wound.
“It's so rewarding to
come here and be able to experience that, but [also] to help
share it with the younger veterans,” he said. “It's the
chance to give back what older veterans freely gave us, and
to see them realize that if they can do this, they can do
Article and photo by Donna Miles|
American Forces Press Service
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