Healing on the hill
December 7, 2005
BRECKENRIDGE – Rich Ingram isn’t the type of guy who will let much hold him back from living his life.When he lost his left arm over the summer while fighting the war in Iraq, his parents met him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. Without asking, his mom had brought along Ingram’s fly-fishing rod, knowing her son wouldn’t want to wait too long before jumping back into a sport he loved.Sure enough, when his cousin came to visit, the two went outside and practiced casting on the front lawn – Ingram tugging along his medical tubes and IV cords the entire time.He began physical therapy soon after his arm was amputated, entering rehabilitation during his first week in the hospital. Once, he snuck onto the treadmill in the physical therapy room while no one was looking because he missed running so much – again his IV attached to his body.Even though he is still considered an out-patient at Walter Reed, he traveled to Breckenridge this week to ski the slopes with about 60 other war veterans who were severely wounded in combat, and their family members.”There’s no way I could get through life without doing stuff like this. I’m not goingto lean over and die,” the athletic 22-year-old said in a southern drawl while riding up the Mercury Lift at Breckenridge Wednesday. Ingram is participating in The Hartford Ski Spectacular, a week-long Disabled Sports USA program that honors America’s heroes by offering learn-to-ski and learn-to-ride clinics, as well as mentoring from members of the U.S. Paralympic Team.The veterans are also joined by about 700 others with disabilities.’Lights out, say a prayer’
Ingram signed up for the National Guard ROTC (Reserve Offices Training Corps) while he was attending college in his native state of Georgia. When the possibility of a deployment to Iraq came up, he readily took the opportunity because he wanted to have combat hours under his belt for his future as a ranking officer.He shipped overseas in May, and on July 20 he was riding in a line of four Humvees carrying out a reconnaissance patrol. As a gunner, he rode on top of the vehicle so he could get a clear view of any potential threats.Ingram remembers that a bomb went off as his Humvee was negotiating a corner, causing the vehicle to roll over four or five times.He knew the large vehicle was turning upside down and thought his life was over.”I remember my exact thoughts: Lights out, say a prayer because you never hear of a gunner surviving something like that,” Ingram said.When the chaos stopped, Ingram said he couldn’t believe he had lived through the accident.He began to feel around his body and as he reached the elbow on his left arm, he realized his forearm was dangling below.The 18-year-old driver of the Humvee, whom Ingram had never met, pulled out a tourniquet and wrapped his comrade’s arm.The rest of his squadron, including Paul, one of Ingram’s good buddies from college, rushed over to help.
Ingram tried to keep the mood light, cracking jokes while his fellow troops tended to him in the blazing heat. “(Paul) held my hand all the way to the helicopter,” Ingram recalled with a smile on his face. Ingram later found out that Paul had been killed during another mission.Rehabilitation through skiingOut on the ski hill, the memories of war, injuries and fallen friends fade into the background as Ingram concentrates on improving his skiing with help from Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center instructor Jen Sloan. “You’re still skiing on pretty flat skis so try to get more on the edge,” Sloan suggested about half-way down the first run. She demonstrated by having Ingram lean against her ski pole, forcing his skis up on their edges.Ingram nodded before zipping off down the intermediate trail.It was their second day together and Sloan used the same teaching techniques she would if she were instructing someone with two arms. The only difference is Ingram’s balance can be thrown off slightly by have one less limb and ski pole for support, Sloan said.
But, you’d never be able to tell by watching him make turns down the hill, always in search of a new challenge.”I’d like to try a bowl, but I think that’ll be next time.” Ingram said. “I’m pretty much down for whatever.”Skiing in Breckenridge’s mountain environment is a great rehabilitation tool for veterans such as Ingram, said Disabled Sports USA executive director Kirk Bauer, a decorated veteran who lost his leg in the Vietnam War. “They come from an overheated, stuffy hospital ward that smells like anesthesia, where constant medical procedures are being done … all the sudden, they’re up in the mountains, skiing Breckenridge in the fresh air,” Bauer said from a small conference room at Beaver Run, while taking a break from skiing.This year produced the largest turnout of veterans Ski Spectacular has seen since it began hosting injured soldiers three years ago, Bauer said.He attributed the increase to word-of-mouth about how enjoyable the week is, but also as a reflection of the ongoing war that continues send home Americans with serious injuries.Disabled Sports hosts a number of other sporting opportunities, such as rock climbing, sailing, cycling and golf, but skiing often has the quickest learning curve with the best results, Bauer said.”Every single one of these wounded war veterans was on the chairlift by the end of the first day and making turns down the mountain,” Bauer said proudly.The Ski Spectacular continues through Saturday.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13625, or at email@example.com.