Keystone Adaptive Center partners with national nonprofit benefiting veterans
February 3, 2017
Veterans from all branches of the U.S. armed forces will hit the slopes this Sunday, some of them for the first time, in the hopes of promoting healing through winter sports.
"When you're out there, and you breathe the air, it just breathes life back into you," said Marty Caraway, a Minnesota vet that's traveling to snowboard in Keystone this weekend.
The event is coordinated by the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit serving veterans and their families. The vets will take over the slopes from Feb. 5-9. The Semper Fi Fund makes sure that each vet has the appropriate equipment before working with other nonprofits on getting them the right training. For this event, the organization is partnering locally with the Keystone Adaptive Center. Staff from the center will help coach and mentor the 35 veterans with their skills on skis, snowboards and mono-skis.
"They hold those specific skills to be able to teach people to get on a mono-ski, or get on skis or a snowboard, for the first time or the fifth time or how ever many times, and kind of get them to that progression to where on the end of the second day and that third day they're riding on their own and having fun," said Brian McPherson, a senior manager in public relations and marketing for the Semper Fi Fund.
While Semper Fi works with vets in all aspects of their lives, including housing and medical assistance, one of the highlights of the program is promoting both physical and mental healing through physical activity. With a focus on team bonding and camaraderie, vets are able to participate in sports of their choice.
Caraway first participated in a Semper Fi Team event in January of 2015. He went to Park City, Utah to learn to snowboard. Caraway was a skier, but hadn't been out on a mountain in 15 years. Learning to snowboard took determination.
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"By the end of the third day, I was cruising. I was cruising mountains and I was loving it," Caraway said. "I was able to find something that gave me joy, in a season where I felt like there was none."
This is why Caraway thinks that the team-building aspect of Semper Fi events is crucial. When you have someone to help you along, you're less likely to give up. Semper Fi Team events aren't about competition.
"The name is exactly what it is, Team Semper Fi, and we're not all competing, it's just to create this team environment where you're all there for each other," he said.
Daniel Riley, a mono-skier who lives in Vail, said that the sense of brotherhood was what he missed most about the Marine Corps. He said that being able to connect with people who are going through a similar experience is the most valuable thing about the Semper Fi program.
"You can get out, and then at the same time do it through sport and work on recovering together," he said. "It very quickly, with that common bond, just becomes another family."
Riley lost both his legs in December of 2010. The Semper Fi Fund began working with his family in 2011, helping out with medical care. The organization also worked with Riley to get a hand-operated vehicle, helping him to regain independence as an adult. Now, Riley said that he participates in every sport that he can get his hands on. In addition to skiing, the Semper Fi Fund helped him participate in the Marine Corps Marathon in 2012, and has taught him how to mountain bike.
For Caraway, the skills that he's learned through sporting events have carried over into his personal life. After picking up snowboarding, he took his son out to learn. He and his daughter both like the mental challenges of golf, the sport Caraway participates in for summer.
Before McPherson began working at the Semper Fi Fund, he participated in the program as a Marine vet. For him, continuing to work with the program that helped him move forward is a blessing.
"I tell people all the time that my job is a daily reward because I get to see or hear, or be a part of the direct impact of one service member, or some days 100 service members," he said.
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