Olivero: Disabled Sports USA Ski Spectacular participant trains in Breckenridge for expedition to South Pole
Military veteran Cameron Kerr will plant Disabled Sports USA flag at bottom of earth
BRECKENRIDGE — Cameron Kerr and the staff at the Breckenridge Nordic Center had to get creative this week when the former U.S. Army officer trained for his upcoming expedition to the South Pole.
While visiting Breckenridge for the Disabled Sports USA The Hartford Ski Spectacular adaptive snow sports event, Kerr traded in his snowboard for a pair of Nordic skis. Then, to simulate the conditions he’ll encounter on his trek to the South Pole, Kerr loaded 10 industrial-sized cans of vegetables for 60 pounds of dead weight. The trip will take him a week and a half over 60 nautical miles from the 89th parallel south.
Massachusetts-native Kerr, 32, returned to the Disabled Sports USA Ski Spectacular adaptive winter sports event for the second time this week in part to prep at altitude for his second trip to Antarctica. After touring a portion of the land and sea surrounding the Antarctic peninsula in 2012, Kerr will descend further, this time to the exact bottom of the planet as part of Antarctic explorer Robert Swan’s “Last 300” expedition.
Swan, the first person to ever reach the North and South poles in one lifetime, was 14 days and 100 nautical miles into his 300-mile journey as of Sunday afternoon. Sponsored by Swan and Disabled Sports USA, Kerr will join Swan’s expedition group for the final stretch through variable summer Southern Hemisphere conditions including temperatures as cold as minus 30 degrees Celsius and winds as gusty as 60 knots.
The experience will serve two purposes for Kerr. For one, it’s a way for him to take part in Swan’s vision of cultivating what Swan hopes will be the next generation of climate leaders, as much of Swan’s work has been specific to climate change at Antarctica.
More personally, Kerr wants to continue to show that wounded veterans like him can live lives void of common post-military issues — such as post-traumatic stress disorder — and complete with activity and adventure.
“It’s the personal challenge,” Kerr said at the Ski Spectacular at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge on Saturday morning. “It’s about saying, ‘Hey, what’s next?’ Which is kind of what we (military veterans) are all about. ‘Good job on that, what’s next?’ We’ve got to kind of keep upping it, but also being a part of the small conversation to pivot away from prevailing narratives about veterans, helping to be a little part of that pivot to showcase, ‘Look, wounds are just the beginning. Disability isn’t what you think it is.’”
This week at Ski Spectacular, Kerr snowboarded again for the first time since he first came to Breckenridge’s Disabled Sports USA event in 2011. Kerr said he personally doesn’t have that intricate of a snowboard setup as he is a below-the-knee amputee, strapping in much the same as any other ride on the mountain. As such, when Kerr dropped in this week, he picked up the nature of carving turns on a board much like riding a bike again.
Kerr had the lower part of his leg amputated in 2011 during his first deployment to Afghanistan. Kerr said much of his duties during his time in Afghanistan consisted of foot patrols. It was on a normal patrol pushing south into a Taliban stronghold when Kerr had his accident.
The area he and his service mates were trekking over was familiar to them. But the day changed when all of a sudden Kerr heard a pop 150 yards from him. It was the sound of the Afghan lieutenant counterpart he was working with stepping on an IED — or improvised explosive device — on a nearby trail.
While the Afghan lieutenant was being attended to, Kerr decided it was a professional courtesy to walk over to him, say goodbye and thank him for working with him. Kerr stepped on an auxiliary IED while walking over.
He remained conscious despite the force of the blast. After being loaded onto the same medivac as his counterpart, Kerr arrived at the hospital and realized he had massive bone destruction, tissue damage and a missing heel bone. The only choice was to amputate.
Yet when Kerr reflects on his injury and current situation, he has a positive mindset. He regards himself and his injury as a “paper cut,” or an injury that is not as bad as many other injuries. His below-the-knee amputation allows him to use his knee to normally do many of the active and adventurous things he has grown to love, such as participating in the Boston Marathon twice and Tough Mudders.
As to why Kerr was inspired to join the military in the first place, it goes back to the same mantra that he carries with him today during the preparation and execution of such adventurous activity as his expedition to the South Pole. The child of an immigrant from Northern Ireland who worked for years to become an American citizen, Kerr grew up valuing the situation he was born into as an American.
Later in his childhood, when his father and family helped some of the Lost Boys of Sudan settle into American life after fleeing the struggle of the Second Sudanese Civil War, the experience reinforced Kerr’s appreciation for his American life.
With that in mind, he felt he had to merit the life he was born into, hence his enrollment in ROTC at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, and the inspiration for his latest expedition to Antarctica.
“It made me realize,” Kerr said, “‘I need to do something to earn this.’ That’s what I’m kind of getting at is, ‘I need to earn mine.’”
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