- Wounded vets incorporate snow sports into rehabilitation program
- Monoskis and bi-skis are provided for a safe ride down the slope
- Vets need to learn to use muscles in new ways, program director says
One day at a time. That's the approach these American military veterans take when it comes to living with lifelong injuries. Twenty-one wounded warriors recently took to the ski slopes in Wintergreen, Virginia, for a weekend of skiing and snowboarding.
"I'm learning how to snowboard. ... It's a blast," said 21-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Cody Pettitt. "I've probably been up and down that hill five times already." Pettitt was seriously wounded in an attack in Afghanistan. He's had reconstructive surgery on his left foot and is well aware of the importance of staying active. "Just getting out and moving helps loosen everything up," he said.
Tom Brown, executive director of Wintergreen Adaptive Sports, said veterans need to learn to use their muscles in new and different ways.
"The program began eight years ago when we were requested by Walter Reed Army Medical Center to host a group of active-duty wounded warriors who had served in Iraq. They wanted to see if snow sports could become a part of their rehabilitation program," he said.
"I've had really bad balance issues," said Marine Corps Sgt. Robert Lee Skalitsky, 25. Skalitsky suffered two concussions in two separate blasts within ten minutes of each other while serving in Afghanistan. He's optimistic that being out in the crisp January air at Wintergreen will do him a lot of good. "Mentally it's going to stimulate a lot of the good flow," he said.
Matthew Staton suffered serious leg and hip injuries while serving in Iraq, but he's always looking forward to getting on the ski slopes. "I get the enjoyment out of being able to get back out and do things like this outdoors," he said.
He took part in the Wintergreen event last year, and this year, he's back as an assistant instructor. "I get to show my peers who are here for maybe the first time that you can be seriously injured and come back out here and do this," he said.
Those who are able to use traditional skis and snowboards do so under the guidance and supervision of a Wintergreen Adaptive Sports instructor. For those who need a little extra help, monoskis and bi-skis are provided for a safe ride down the slopes. Instructors hold on to tethers so they can help steer or slow down the bi-skis or monoskis. The warrior's job is to simply enjoy the ride and soak up the fun.
"They got me rigged up in this bi-ski with these side riggers and then the hand riggers and then I'm going to have people tethering so I know I'm not going down," said Skalitsky.
But even the best of skiers takes a tumble every once in a while. The same holds true for some of these warriors. Some of them have taken some spills on the slopes. But there's an old saying that pain is just weakness leaving the body.
"We'll take our injuries," said Staton. "Continue to push yourself outdoors. Your body will respond to it positively."
Judging by all the smiles at Wintergreen, these veterans were having a ton of fun, too.