Semper Fi ski, snowboard clinic at Keystone Resort helps injured vets in post-war life
January 12, 2018
For Marine Corps veteran Manny Jimenez, an above-the-elbow amputee, one sentence sums up why he traveled across the country from his home in Glastonbury, Connecticut, to learn how to ski here in Summit County this week.
"A lot of veterans bounce off veterans in their time of need," Jimenez said.
Like many young veterans nationwide, Jimenez has had difficulties adjusting to life after his tours of duty overseas. His time in service included his second deployment, to the southern Afghan agricultural town of Marjah, where he was injured by an improvised explosive device on Aug. 1, 2010.
It was at his bedside table where Jimenez and his family met his case manager through the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit that provides both immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to injured service members like him. As an organization, the Semper Fi Fund says their focus is helping service members realize there is life post-trauma.
"Which I believe played a huge aspect in my recovery to give me that strong mindset," Jimenez said. "You need a strong support group, especially in the beginning after the traumatic event.
"You grow up all your life with all of your limbs," he added, "and one day you wake up and you can't remember a lot of things, and your brain is rattled and you realize you are missing an arm. You need a strong structure from the beginning. And the Semper Fi Fund case manager has always helped me, to keep me on target."
Jimenez credits the Semper Fi Fund with instilling a fire inside of him, one that led him to the fund's sports program, or Team Semper Fi. Just a few months after his injury, he was cleared to run in November 2010, and by January 2011 he was running his first half marathons through the program.
Whether it's Team Semper Fi marathons, triathlons or other events, like this week's ski and snowboard clinic at Keystone Resort, Jimenez believes these programs are the best way for vets to meet friends who can relate to trying to tackle post-trauma life.
"You can pick up the phone, send text messages to the buddies you met at camp to help you through that moment," Jimenez said. "And that's what it means to fight the invisible wounds, half the time. It's someone who has been there too."
Jimenez was one of 30 service members and their family members to take part in this week's three-day Semper Fi Fund Ski and Snowboard Clinic. The national not-for-profit teamed-up with the Keystone Adaptive Center and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center for the second straight year to help outfit and educate veterans who have injuries ranging from those who are wheelchair-bound, to those dealing with cognitive function disorders from a traumatic brain injury, to those dealing with the wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder.
For this week's session at Keystone, Marine Corps veteran and Semper Fi Fund spokesman Brian McPherson, 30, said more than 50 service members from across the country expressed interest in the Keystone clinic.
This week at the clinic, Haley Keller, the program manager at the Keystone Adaptive Center, said 30 instructors and volunteers — including some local veterans — gave their time to help these service members skiers and snowboarders of varying skill levels improve their skills.
"The big part of the Semper Fi Fund event is the lessons are done in a group format," Keller said, "to really promote the building of relationships and camaraderie with the service members, and perhaps maybe the family or friends they bring as well."
The Semper Fi Fund shuttled vets like Jimenez from Denver International Airport on Sunday, and beginning on Monday, the Keystone Adaptive Center took special note of each veterans' injury to outfit them properly to ski for the day.
Then on Tuesday, the veterans for the first time conducted a community service project at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, including cleaning up downed trees, removing snow and ice outside the facility and winterizing some of the facility's equipment.
"Since they were giving back to us, we said, 'Well how can we kind of give back to the Outdoor Education Center?' Through that they needed some kayaks that needed to be winterized, covered up, moved around," McPherson said. "It's new to what we are doing with all of our sports event in the 2018 year."
Then Wednesday's final day of skiing was a free ride day, though the clinic provided above-knee amputee Kyle Cook with the opportunity to also work with Paralympic coaches.
As for future fun for others who took part, McPherson himself just relocated to Colorado this past year to ski more often. After his second deployment to Iraq concluded in 2012, the Ohio-native went to a Semper Fi Fund ski and snowboard camp that same year.
A never-ever snowboarder, McPherson fell in love with the sport as it became a primary variable that helped him to regain his balance and to live life despite his PTSD from a traumatic brain injury and orthopedic issues stemming from two shoulder surgeries.
"It allowed me to grow, post-trauma," he said.
With what might be the season's biggest snow storm yet set to slam into Summit County in time for weekend powder, these days you may find McPherson splitboard snowboarding in the backcountry. His new favorite hobby is to join veteran friends snowboarding at Loveland Pass, and enjoying the hospitality of Summit County locals along the way.
"It forces you to be more comfortable in the uncomfortable," McPherson said. "Backcountry, it gave me what I found in the military, which was a consistent challenge, and the ability to read terrain.
"And Loveland Pass, that view," he added. "You can see all the different resorts from that location up there. And in the event that you just want to take a few runs early morning, the people in Summit County are so amazing, they'll pick you up on Loveland Pass and take you back to the top."
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