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Vail Veterans Program hosts Wounded Warriors

Daniel Milchev/Vail Veterans Program/Special to the Daily

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 wounded warriors and their families, building confidence and hope through skiing, snowboarding and outdoor summer recreational activities.

• The Vail Veterans Program is a volunteer organization and hosts wounded warriors and their families free of charge.

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

VAIL — A few days in Vail can change lives.

The Vail Veterans Program is hosting its sixth summer group this week. They adapt, they overcome, and then they come here for fun — and a little more adapting and overcoming.

Vail is a proving ground for these men and their families, said Lt. Col David Rozelle. Most were hit less than six months before they come here. They learn what they can do. They’re already convinced there’s nothing they can’t.

“It helps that they’re a bunch of fearless warriors,” Rozelle said.

Some rafted the Colorado River, some went technical climbing, fishing and jeeping.

Everyone in every group is a triumph-over-tragedy story. These Wounded Warriors are not the men they used to be. They’re more, and so are their families.

Michael’s right arm was blown off. Jason lost both legs when he stepped on a homemade bomb. He’s from Oakland and proudly wears a Raiders sticker on his left prosthesis. Edgar lost three limbs.

A few days really can help change your life.

“This builds confidence and gives guys an opportunity to figure out their limitations. It builds confidence,” Michael said.

Most of this group is in San Antonio, where they’re rehabbing from their injuries.

“There’s a hidden agenda. It’s rehab, but they add lots of fun,” Michael said.

Part of rehab is learning to be as independent as possible. Another part is learning to ask for help when they really need it.

“They’re proud soldiers,” said Lucy.

Lucy’s married to Edgar, and they brought the family. Yeah, the summer trip to Vail is a family vacation and they’re having a great time, but it’s also about learning to live again and to adapt to their future.

“It helps the kids adapt to their wounded warrior fathers and the wives adapt to their new lives,” Lucy said.

This is the sixth summer trip and they brought 23 Wounded Warriors to town, along with 21 children.

Too good to do once

Rozelle has been with the Vail Veterans Program since that first group came to town in March 2004. He’s a double amputee after getting hit in Iraq.

It was designed to be a one-time event, bring in 10 guys, teach them to ski, send ‘em home, Rozelle said.

But it was too good to do once. He said he knew it immediately, as soon as the Wounded Warriors arrived.

Cheryl Jensen is a force of nature and founded the Vail Veterans Program.

For that first group in 2004, Jensen was moving from moment to moment. At the closing night dinner at the Vail firehouse, every one of the 10 Wounded Warriors made his way up to her, thanked her and told her how much this meant to them.

Since then the Vail Veterans Program has run more than 1,000 soldiers and family members through the program.

“It has always been about the skiing and snowboarding and outdoor activities, but more than anything else it’s about healing,” Jensen said “They take away things that last a lifetime. The true healing of the human spirit is what takes place here,” Jensen said.


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