Vail Veterans Program back on snow with vets, families
11 vets and their families attend on-snow healing program on Vail Mountain
After almost two years, the Vail Veterans Program welcomed 11 veterans and their families back to Vail Mountain this week. The Vail Veterans Program, which was formed in 2004, offers military injured and their families free world-class therapeutic programs designed to build confidence, create lifelong relationships and tap into the freedom the mountains bring out in all of us.
Some vets come directly from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California. Other vets are literally veterans of the program and have been involved in these trips a few times, like Mark Haegele, a retired United States Marine Corps corporal, who has been to three programs in the past decade.
“I first came to the winter program 10 years ago, but I had come straight from Walter Reed and I don’t remember a lot,” said Haegele, who is a double above-the-knee amputee.
“It’s so much fun this time around. My kids are 5 and 6 and learning, and my wife is snowboarding and loving it,” Haegele said.
Haegele is on a mono-ski and has progressed to advanced terrain on the top of the mountain. “I give all the credit to my instructor, but he’s getting to know my style. He knows my mindset from being in the Marines that for me to get something done, he’s got to let me fall and get after it and it’s working, I’m picking it up rather quickly.”
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Not all injuries are physical
The Vail Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School provides instruction and modified equipment for the Vail Veterans Program, but not all wounded warriors have physical injuries. Cindi Craig was in the U.S. Navy for 22 years and refers to her wounds as being the invisible type.
“I’m very talkative and have a bubbly personality and I mask everything. As a counselor in the Navy I was dealing with everybody else’s pain and not taking care of myself and it just got to be too much,” Craig said.
Craig finally sought treatment in a program called Safe Harbor and one of the therapists recommended she attend a Vail Veterans Program session in the summer of 2019. She also attended the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute through the Vail Veterans Program and was thrilled to come to a winter program.
“Being here, I realize that I’m not alone and it makes you realize that you can do all these things no matter what’s going on in your life. So, it sparked some sort of fire in me,” Craig said.
As for the snowboarding, Craig is fired up about that, too.
“I’m bruised and sore after three days of learning, but I’m going to get after it out there today,” Craig said.
The group is small, and even though the schedule is full of skiing and snowboarding during the day and dinners and activities like bowling and tubing at night, the bonding that occurs creates lifelong friendships.
“You share so much here. Someone at dinner last night said, ‘I think meeting you is the reason I was meant to be on this trip,’ and it made me cry, because they can’t see my physical wounds but I shared with them my invisible wounds and it showed that person that I have problems just like them, we can all relate. The connections we’ve all made this week have been amazing,” Craig said.
The Vail Veterans Program offers these events and others throughout the year at no charge to the veterans and their families. To learn more, go to VailVeteransprogram.org.