Vail Veterans Program’s Family Week reminds us that we’re all in this together | VailDaily.com

Vail Veterans Program’s Family Week reminds us that we’re all in this together

The Vail Veterans Program Winter Family Week is back in Vail, bringing wounded military veterans and their families to town for a ski vacation. That's Jess Walton learning to ski on a monoski.
Vail Veterans Program

VAIL — Jess and Tina Walton’s two sons were among dozens of kids bouncing around the Larkspur restaurant Thursday morning, anxious for their last day skiing on Vail Mountain with the Vail Veterans Program.

Eight-year-old Chase Walton strolled past his dad and gave him a loving punch in the shoulder … because they’re guys who love each other. Everyone smiles.

That’s the thing about the Vail Veterans Program. Everyone smiles almost all of the time.

“They take away all the problems and obstacles. All you have to do is enjoy your stay,” Tina Walton said.

Chase and his brother Cole, 10, learned to ski this week, along with all the other kids and their parents.

Like the dozens of people in town this week for the Vail Veterans Program’s Winter Family Program, this trip is their first opportunity to learn a sport together. They live in Temecula, California, so skiing might not have occurred to them if not for this trip.

They’ve been on the mountain all day every day. They have to drag their sons off the mountain in the afternoon, Jess Walton said.

That’s a really big deal, Tina Walton says.

“It’s the first time we’re learning the same skills at the same time,” Tina says. “We couldn’t be more grateful.”

Captains America

Jess Walton looks like Captain America in a roomful of Captain Americas (Captains America?) in town this week. He served 21 years active duty as a United States Coast Guard corpsman, so he just might be the superhero.

He has had the very good fortune to be married to Tina Walton for 16 years. She’s Captain America’s manager because even the captain needs one.

They met when they were both on active duty with the Coast Guard.

Jess Walton was in his 19th year with the Coast Guard, on his way to 30 years, and was on leave when an automobile accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

From the moment he woke after the accident he was positive and upbeat about what lay ahead, Tina Walton said.

“He’s not just a glass-half-full guy, he’s a glass-is-always-full guy,” Tina Walton said. “His outlook is always positive.”

Adapting to a new life

After the accident Jess Walton had intended to go back to full-time duty with the Coast Guard. In his 21st year, he retired and adaptation became the family’s new mission. His glass is still full.

Tina Walton went back to work in the medical industry and Jess loves his new role as Mr. Mom. He looks after the boys and Tina Walton volunteers at their school.

Jess Walton was always physically fit, and the accident didn’t change that. He threw himself into hand cycling and now competes in marathons: three Boston Marathons, a couple New York Marathons, the Marine Corps Marathon and a long list of others.

The transition has not been seamless.

“Some days, especially early on, you wanted to curl up in a ball,” Tina Walton said. “When you say ‘I do,’ no one’s plans include anything like this.”

The Vail Veterans Program and other programs taught them quickly that they are not alone, that they and other families are making the same adjustments, Tina said.

Cole and Chase were 2 and 3 years old when their dad was injured. The boys knew that other dads had also been hurt, but being in Vail with this program reinforces what their parents teach them and show them every day: That many patriotic people have made towering sacrifices of all kinds, and that they’re a family and they’re in this life together.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.