Healing heroes | VailDaily.com

Healing heroes

Monte Davis was blown up four times in three weeks while fighting in the Middle East. He looked across 190 yards of water to the green on a playoff hole with the match on the line and smiled as he ignored good advice from a professional golfer — to lay up and play it safe.

"I'm a Navy SEAL. We do not lay up," he said.

And with that, he dropped one on the edge of the green to thunderous applause.

The latest Vail Veterans Program crew is in town, and they're having the best time ever.

They're golfing and laughing at Red Sky Ranch, and doing about anything else they want, because … really, who's going to tell these guys they can't do something?

Glow in the dark Darth

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It's Tim Johannson's third golf trip to the valley. He lives in the town of Elizabeth.

"People make you feel welcome every time we're here," Johannson said.

He shot an 89 Wednesday on the Red Sky Ranch Norman course, and while there are no warts on that, he said he left a couple shots that he shouldn't have.

That's the thing about golf and life. There's always room for improvement.

Johannson didn't make it to last year's golf outing. He and his wife had their second son, a repeat lesson in this fact of life: You don't have a baby. The baby has you, and in a good way.

He was hit by an IED in Iraq, and lost both legs just above the knee. He retired from the military in 2009.

He smiles as he points out that on his prosthetics, he has pictures of Darth Vader that glow in the dark.

Heroes and humility

This is the fifth year Red Sky Ranch has hosted the Vail Veterans Program's summer golf session. The winter program is 11 years old.

The vets get lessons, rounds of golf, lodging, food, transportation — and it's free for them. They've given way more than their share.

"It's a humbling experience working with these heroes, especially when you realize how much passion they have for golf," said Jeff Hanson, a professional with Red Sky Ranch.

The Vail Veterans Program summer golf tour is great for all the reasons golf is good for is good for anyone, Hanson said.

"If we can help them play it better, they'll enjoy it more," Hanson said.

Rec's guardian angel

Keith Williams spent 30 years in the Marines. He retired a few months back and now works with vets in recovery recreation therapy. It's what it sounds like, but he's also a guardian angel.

He makes himself familiar with each veteran's potential issues: noise, crowds, light, a compromised ability to process excess information.

Airport metal detectors are a special adventure for most of these people.

"When they get uncomfortable, I step in," Williams said.

Williams grins as someone pokes good-natured fun at his non-golf shoes, Chuck Taylors by Converse, and offers to buy a pair for Vail Veterans Program founder Cheryl Jensen.

Shark bite tattoo

Monte Davis, he who would not lay up, is here for the first time. He's easy to spot. He's the tall smiling guy, resplendent in red, white and blue stars-and-stripes shorts and matching golf shoes.

He has half his left elbow, a titanium ball in his spine and a chunk out of his right calf that looks like a shark bite.

In fact, he's toying with the idea of getting a shark bite tattoo on that chunk. Why? "Because it'd be hilarious!" Davis said.

That fourth time he was hit, the one that took the chunk out of his calf, made him mad more than anything else, he said.

"They took me back to tent city and I was turned around taking pictures of my leg," Davis said smiling.

Just before they put him under for surgery, an Army chaplain poked his head into Davis' field of vision, which made him think of the hereafter.

"Doc, am I gonna die?" Davis asked.

"I don't know, son, but I don't think so," the doctor answered.

"Then tell that S.O.B. to get out of here!" Davis said of the chaplain.

His team seemed certain he'd make it. As medics were cutting stuff off him so they could work on him, his crew was laughing and calling dibs on his stuff — such as his laptop computer and X-box.

"I'm gonna live just to keep you from getting it!" Davis told them.

He said he has a skid mark on his butt (We didn't look. We'll just take his word for it), where an intern took a less-than-perfect skin graft. When he asked his doctor about it Davis was told, "Well, this is a teaching hospital."

"It's the least cool scar I have," Davis said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

About the Vail Veterans Program

The Vail Veterans Program provides rehabilitative sports programs to United States military personnel who have been severely injured while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and to the troops that support those efforts.

The program is open to the combat veterans and their families, building confidence and hope through skiing, snowboarding and outdoor summer recreational activities.

The Vail Veterans Program is a volunteer organization and does this free of charge for the veterans and their families.

Send donations or contact them at: P.O. Box 6473, Vail, Colorado 81658; 970-476-4906; email: vailveteransprogram@gmail.com