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Breck ski week part of vets’ recoveries

Bonnie Holladay
Kristin Skvorc /Summit DailyAmerican skier Hayden Gerald turns tightly around a gate during last year's Ski Spectacular slalom race in Breckenridge. The 19th annual event will take place again this week.
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BRECKENRIDGE – Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA, believes that a picture is not only worth a thousand words, it is also capable of changing perspectives especially if it is an image of a disabled athlete sailing deftly down the mountain on a pristine day.”It breaks the concept that a disability means that you are not able,” Bauer said. Through Dec. 10, Bauer’s organization will host the 19th annual Hartford Ski Spectacular at Breckenridge. Disabled Sports USA is a national nonprofit founded in 1967 to rehabilitate injured Vietnam veterans, and it currently offers programs to anyone with a permanent disability. During the week newcomers will learn to ski while intermediate and advanced participants compete in races. Approximately 800 participants are expected – including 100 wounded American veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and several wounded British veterans from the Iraq war.Bauer, who lost his leg in a grenade attack in Vietnam, has been with the organization for 35 years. As a disabled veteran, he said, he can empathize with the servicemen and women who come home from overseas severely wounded. Going from a very active, risk-taking lifestyle and profession to being “flat on your back” can be very hard to cope with, he said. “Talk about going from the top of the top to the bottom. The distance they fall is great,” he said.He has been impressed by the resilience the veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown. “They are very motivated individuals with the power to bounce back quicker than anything I’ve ever seen. They’re the best group we’ve ever worked with,” he said.

Army Staff Sgt. Ross Graydon from Fort Campbell, Fla., is one of the veterans from the Iraq conflict that will be in Breckenridge this week. Less than six months ago, while on his second tour of duty in Iraq, he lost part of his left and dominant arm in a roadside bomb explosion. Graydon, whose family has a long tradition of military service, joined the army 10 years ago in search of job stability. “My dad always told me that the military would always provide for me, and I learned to love the military in that aspect. They do tend to take care of their own. I hate the fact that I had to get out,” he said. In Iraq, Graydon was a part of an engineering company that located and diffused explosives. During his first tour of duty in 2003, which lasted a year, he said that the attitude of the Iraqi people toward Americans surprised him. “To tell you the truth, one thing I was not expecting was – in the military they teach you to expect the worst but hope for the best – but everyone was so welcoming the first time,” he said. By his second tour, he said, the attitude had seemed to change, which made for a much more difficult environment. “I got over there this time, and it was like the feeling toward us had changed a lot. They were not as open or as receptive, it seems,” he said.

Graydon was injured July 22, and by July 30 he was at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., with his family, his wife Jamie, and their 10-year-old daughter Brittany/ Despite their challenging past half-year, Graydon and Jamie are looking forward to the Hartford Ski Spectacular. Graydon, aside from military business, has never been west of Houston, and neither he nor Jamie has ever been skiing before. “I don’t think anything in the world could keep me from having a good time,” he said. Graydon said that his injury has taught him some important life lessons. “The big thing is not to take anything for granted,” he said. “I could have easily been killed by what happened to me as the next person. “I had planned on spending 20 years in the military and retiring and relaxing and working at Wal-Mart. Now, that’s not going to happen. Life is fragile.”

Bauer said that when a person is seriously injure, they often lose their sense of identity and feel as though “the world’s been shattered.”By incorporating sports into someone’s rehabilitation, Bauer said, it shows them that they are able to do something well, and the act itself focuses them on something positive. “The alternative is to focus on the negative and sit around thinking about all the things you can’t do. Substance abuse is all too common,” he said. After his injury, Bauer in 1970s won medals in national ski competitions and was selected for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team in 1979. Learning to ski helped him recover both physically and mentally, he said. “People said I was too obsessed with ski racing, and maybe I was,” he said, “but it was better than going to drugs. Skiing helped turn me around.”Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO


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