Vail Valley Voices: An homage to one of Vail’s heroes
Vail, CO, Colorado
Webster’s Dictionary defines hero as: “A man admired for his achievements and noble qualities or one that shows great courage.”
Take a look around you tonight and think about the word hero.
I think it would be safe to say that we all have a hero here tonight. We have soldiers and firefighters sitting all around us. We have others here who on a daily basis carry this title.
The spouses of all the wounded veterans and firefighters here tonight and all over our country and military. They carry a load as demanding as the rest of us. They worry and defend our homes at bay when we are called to duty. They raise our kids when we are many miles away training, responding to a demanding situation or deployed. They give us support and hope when we seem to have misplaced it.
Then one day just out of the blue they receive a phone call and hearing what they have been fearing. A casualty report. Then they travel long distances to see us, not knowing what to expect when they get there.
Then they take on a whole new challenge of duties, but at the same time having to guard their emotions secretly to themselves because their focus is on the wounded veteran or firefighter.
They stay by our bed and they fight, they continue to fight right next to us. They take on everything while we heal and deal with the effects of our injuries. They support our duties and most of all, they stand beside us and in front of us, and at times take a back seat to our duties when we are called upon.
These brave spouses are the true unsung heroes here tonight and all over the country. I think they deserve a standing ovation.
We have a special person who I would like to recognize tonight. She and her volunteers and sponsors are by definition heroes.
I think we can all agree that Cheryl Jennies and the Vial Veterans Program can be admired for their achievements and their noble qualities.
This program offers more than just a trip out to Vial to ski. Cheryl and her program have used skiing to open a gateway of so many other achievements. Through the act of skiing we are able to gain so much confidence in lieu of a disability. We put ourselves out there on the snow in a device that we are not familiar with, and then trust the instructors to keep us safe on the mountain. We do this despite all of the issues we have gone through in the past months.
On the first day we are all just meeting one another, and for some of us it’s the first time we have really been away from the therapy, hospital or just the daily grind of our injuries.
For me, by the second day with my instructor, I had almost forgotten that I was even injured. As weird as that may sound, it is the truth.
For the first time since Sept. 21, 2006, I felt complete happiness. For a moment my life was just like it was before.
My face hurt so bad from smiling and laughing so hard. I saw Matte Kiel, who I have come to know very well, get out of his chair onto a sled and trust his instructor to put him on the mountain, knowing that if anything was too happen he had no way to brace of stop himself.
He said it best when he said, “I just wanted to go fast down the mountain and feel the wind hit my face.”
I saw Carl so nervous the first time she sat in her ski. And now I see nothing but a big smile on her face when she is ripping up the slopes.
Or Justin Widhalm, who told me, “I will never stand up and ski.” Today I skied with him on a blue slope, just his third day skiing.
Cheryl, I just want you to know that your program is more than just skiing. You have found a way for us, the wounded veterans, to regain our confidence, our trust, and help us feel like we are not a disability but that we are always going to be who we are no matter what disabilities we face.
We as soldiers are trained to overcome adversity, to make do with what we have. But it helps immensely when there are people like you who make it easier for us.
You may not have served in the military, but I tell you that you are serving. You are serving as a great American, and you represent what Americans should be about.
You are a hero.
This is a transcript of the remarks one of the injured soldiers, David Hillary, made recently during the annual visit of military military personnel to Vail arranged by Cheryl Jensen through Vail Veterans Program, a nonprofit organization she started.