Vail Veterans Program hosts 23 wounded military on slopes this week
On-mountain programs help instill hope in the military injured
From being nervous and overwhelmed to now being inspirational and thankful, that progression exemplifies what Crystal Radice-Dunblazer, a retired Army nurse, experienced with the Vail Veterans Program.
Radice-Dunblazer is a below-the-knee amputee and had her amputation done at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX. She was there for most of 2019 doing physical therapy before the surgery and rehabilitation after the amputation. It was while there that she was selected to come to the Vail Veterans Program in January of 2020 and attend one of the Vail-based nonprofit’s Winter Family Program.
The Vail Veterans Program provides military injured and their families with innovative, transformative and inspirational programs that build confidence and improve lives.
“The family program was my first trip on the mountain since my amputation. I was very nervous and scared since my amputation was still pretty fresh, less than a year,” Radice-Dunblazer said.
“I had high hopes I’d be able to get back out there, I’d been out to Colorado a hundred times on snowboarding trips with my dad, but it was extremely difficult so I ended up doing the ski bike which I fell in love with. It was so much fun.”
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The Vail Veterans Program works with the Vail Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School, which can provide the right equipment and adaptations for the particular needs of the vets.
Radice-Dunblazer and her husband, Ryan, also a veteran, and their three children ages 20, 14 and 11 all got out on the slopes.
“It was so wonderful to have them with me here and sharing in the experiences that I shared with my dad,” Radice-Dunblazer said. “To see their joy from being out here learning something new, having so much fun and they got to see me out there as well having fun, it just lifts your spirits so much.”
Radice-Dunblazer was invited back to the Winter Mountain Adventure Program on Vail Mountain earlier this week, which is an adults only program. The Vail Veterans Program hosted 23 wounded vets, 13 guests and four military hospital staff.
“This week has been amazing! We love our kids, we really do, and we were very blessed to bring them the last time we were here, but this trip has been…I’m going to get emotional now…this trip has been such a blessing for us to be able to be away, just the two of us, and get back to connecting and enjoying the experiences out on the mountain. It was so good to have Ryan by my side during the challenging parts as well,” Radice-Dunblazer said.
Radice-Dunblazer brought out her snowboard this year.
“I couldn’t stop smiling because it felt so good to be on my board and even though you still deal with some of the pain issues and some of the fear and doubt mentally, it changes when you’re out on the mountain, it really does. I just couldn’t stop smiling,” Radice-Dunblazer said.
After day one back on the snowboard, Radice-Dunblazer was too sore to ride the next day.
“I was so swollen that I couldn’t get my leg on, so I did the ski bike all day,” Radice-Dunblazer said. “The nice thing about the Vail Veterans Program is that they have different types of adaptive equipment and the instructors are so knowledgeable and understand a little more of the limitations that we have as adaptive athletes.”
As a Vail Veterans Program alum, Radice-Dunblazer could help the first-timer vets make the most of this experience.
“I would tell them that it can be nerve-wracking, it can be scary not knowing what you’re getting into, but do it anyway. Facing the challenges here helps translate into other areas of your life.”
The Vail Veterans Program offers these events and many more at no charge to the veterans. To learn more, go to VailVeteransProgram.org.
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