Vail Valley Voices: Vail Veterans Program is life-changing |

Vail Valley Voices: Vail Veterans Program is life-changing

Melissa Stockwell
Vail, CO, Colorado

I can’t help but share what a great week I had this past week.

This month was the 10th anniversary of the Vail Veterans Program, a powerful ski event that gets newly injured vets learning how to ski again.

When I was injured in 2004, I remember someone coming into my hospital room and asking if I was interested in skiing.

The first thought that crossed my mind was, “I have one leg, how on earth am I going to ski?”

I found myself a few months later on the ski slopes of Breckenridge. Hesitant and wobbly at first, but by the end of the week, flying down the top of the mountain, the wind in my hair, feeling as free as I have ever been.

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That trip changed my life and I went back thinking that I could do anything.

A few months later, I found myself out in Vail, attending my first Vail Veterans Program.

Vail Veterans Program is unique in that it is a smaller group trying to keep the participant numbers around 25-30 and catering to newly injured vets.

It is led by the incredible Cheryl Jensen, whose passion to give back to these wounded soldiers is apparent in all she does.

The entire town of Vail rallies around the program and adaptive instructors are lined up the first day to get these men and women out on the ski slopes.

A little nervous at first, these soldiers get out of their wheelchairs and into mon-skis, or take of their prosthetics and get into that ski or leave them on and strap themselves to a snowboard.

If you are a casual skier and you take a look from Chair 6, you’ll see a curious scene with wheelchairs and prosthetics all lined up at the bottom of the hill.

A sight of independence, of overcoming obstacles and proving to themselves what they are capable of.

The week is one of my favorites of the year, with dinners, bowling, tubing, The George and ending the week at the Vail firehouse, where the Vail firefighters host our group for a night filled with lasagna and sliding down their fire pole. Ah, the fire pole.

But the best part of the week is the camaraderie that’s seen. And the looks of joy you see when they make it down a run for the first time.

This trip truly changes lives.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been asked back every year as one of the mentor veterans, talking to these new guys, encouraging them that life does go on and to believe in themselves.

Over the years, I have met lifelong friends that I get to see every year and make new ones that I know I will see again. The triple amputee who learned to snowboard, the couple who got together after his life changing injury and dreams of what their life will be, a former MMA fighter and West Point football player and his fiancee whose love for each other is apparent for all to see, and the list goes on.

So if you want some motivation, check out their website at http://www.vailveterans and help this program continue. And next time you are in Vail in March, look up at those slopes and give a thumbs up as these men and woman learn to live again.

Melissa Stockwell is a 33-year-old Iraqi War veteran, an above the knee amputee on her left side, a 2008 Paralympian, a three-time Paratriathlon World Champion and soon to be Ironman.

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