Vets teach vets to ski in Breckenridge
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE ” Staff Sgt. John Jones was hit by a double stack anti tank mine in Alqaim, Iraq, on Jan. 3, 2005.
The mine is designed to kill everyone in a tank that hits it, but Jones was lucky; he survived. However, he also had to survive 41 surgeries, which ultimately led to the loss of both legs. When he left the hospital, he had “zero drive,” he said.
Eight weeks after he lost his second leg, Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA, called him and said something to the effect of, “Let’s go skiing.” Jones had been a snowboarder before the war, and he didn’t want to get stuck on the bunny hill doing something at which he used to excel.
But he didn’t last long on the bunny hill. Within two days, he had already broken an outrigger on his monoski, and he was taking air. Now, in his second year at the Hartford Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, he has become a mentor to a 10-year-old disabled boy.
“It’s the first step in most of these guys’ lives, to get them back on track to do whatever they want to do in their lives,” Jones said. “It gives you freedom. I didn’t think I’d ever (ski or snowboard) again, but now I can go faster than most able-bodied people.”
While Jones is a mentor, other vets are certified instructors. This year is the first year vets are teaching vets, bringing the program full circle to full rehabilitation, Bauer said.
“When we saw (vets’) capabilities, we realized that if we trained them, they could give back to the program,” he said. “They are great role models for the newly injured. They don’t have to say anything; they know life after a disability, and they know how to push because they know what it took them. They realize this whole effort is worthwhile.”
First Lt. Jeffrey Adams lost his leg Nov. 7, 2004, in Baghdad.
Being from Baton Rouge, he had never seen snow, but that didn’t stop Bauer from calling him up to tell him he wanted to teach Adams how to ski. When Adams heard that, he said, jokingly, “I need the drugs they’re giving you.” (Bauer is a Vietnam vet who lost his leg in 1969 during the war.)
Now Adams is a certified ski instructor, and he teaches other vets to gain their strength. He knows what vets new to the Disabled Sports USA program are going through, and he can give them the mental push and ego boost they need.
“It’s giving back to others,” Jones said, “and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Hartford Ski Spectacular is one of 38 events, not including local chapter events, that the Disabled Sports USA hosts. This year is the 20th anniversary; it has been held at Breckenridge for the last 18 years. It attracted more than 800 participants this year, ranging in ability from beginning skiers to members of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. Of the 800, 129 are soldiers, or “wounded warriors,” and family members.
Bauer believes sports are the most effective tool for rehabilitation. He also believes the Disabled Sports USA program can teach anyone to ski or snowboard. He’s seen people who can only use motorized wheelchairs skiing intermediate runs.
“If you’re still warm, we can teach you how to ski,” he said. “We all have to make adaptations in life. This is just another to make.”
The Hartford Ski Spectacular also serves as a training camp and competition to prepare the U.S. Disabled Ski Team for the 2008 World Championships. To watch any of them ski is an inspiration, to both the participants and onlookers.
“We can conquer anything you want to,” Jones said. “It might take a long time, but we can do it.”
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