Vail Veterans Programs’ Golf in the Rockies returns to help military injured
The Vail Veterans Program brings out wounded warriors for lessons on and off the golf course
Colorado is known for summer activities like rafting, biking and fly fishing, but golfing is right up there as one of the top sports to do here, especially with the golf ball going farther at this altitude. The Vail Veterans Program, which brings military injured out to Eagle County to take part in therapeutic programs that build confidence, create strong bonds and relationships and showcase the grandeur of the mountains, believes golf can heal and have lasting effects on its participants.
The Vail Veterans Program started out in 2004 and offered winter sports like adaptive skiing and snowboarding first. It added summer sports and eventually, the Golf in the Rockies program started in 2012. Last week, 14 wounded veterans came to the Vail Valley and got to play four rounds of golf at spectacular courses like Beaver Creek Golf Club, Red Sky Ranch’s Tom Fazio and Greg Norman-designed courses, and the EagleVail Golf Club.
Derrick Fore was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army for 18 years and grew up golfing and was thrilled when he was asked to come to Vail to participate in Golf in the Rockies. He has participated in Team 43, which is a golf program for wounded veterans linked to the 43rd President, George W. Bush. He and four other wounded veterans are part of Team 43 so they all knew each other but Fore, which he said is a funny last name for a golfer, became close with the other nine wounded veterans by getting to play golf with them the past four days.
“The people that you meet at organizations like this one are lifelong friends. My very first ever outing like this, there are two guys I consider my best friends, I’ve talked to them every day or every other day for four or five years now,” Fore said. “After being at the Vail Veterans Program, I have 13 new brothers. When you meet these people, they are your brothers for life.”
Fore was deployed five times and was injured on all five deployments.
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“I always joke with everybody that I wasn’t very good at my job,” Fore said.
But, Fore is in a rare category. He is one of the few in the country who have received multiple Purple Heart medals.
“I’ve been awarded three purple hearts, I’ve been shot three times, I had shrapnel up my back, my chest and my face, I’ve had two traumatic brain injuries and they were all separate incidences,” Fore said. Fore fought in Iran and Afghanistan and has had 12 surgeries in 7 years.
“I decided that I was going to get back into golf and I was actually so bad because my body had changed so much throughout all the surgeries, the knee surgeries and shoulder and ankle surgeries, that I almost completely walked away from the game, but my wife talked me into pursuing it and getting back to that level I was at and then I joined a couple of different veterans organizations and played in a lot of tournaments and I met people,” Fore said.
These lifelong friendships are what keeps Fore going.
“It goes so far beyond calling this guy or that guy to play a round of golf, you may call just to talk and tell them you’re really struggling or having a bad day or had a bad dream. If I just need someone to talk to I give somebody a call. And they are right there with you because everybody that is here has been through what you’ve been through, and they’ve seen what you’ve seen. So, you are networking and creating this channel and there are just no words to describe how organizations like this are healing and therapeutic,” Fore said.
Even though Fore has been through a lot, he keeps things in perspective.
“So, we’re warming up for the round of golf and I’m looking at a vet and his name is Tyson and he’s out there on the driving range and he’s a double amputee, he’s got no legs below his knees, and he’s out there hitting 260-yard drives, and I’m telling myself, ‘I’m hitting crazy-long, 350-yard drives at this altitude, but that’s nothing because I have both of my legs.’ And I look at this guy, and I say to myself that I can do better, as a person, as a human being, I can fight for more because I see him doing what he’s done,” Fore said.
Fore does believe that golf helps him be a better person.
“When you’re out on the course, it’s you versus yourself, that’s it. You’re in your own head, so everything that you’ve been through, all the bad stuff, it doesn’t exist when you are in what I call the sanctuary,” Fore said.
At each golf course, the veterans get to play with members and get to know people in the community. Many of them are donors and meaningful one-on-one conversations happen while on the golf course. Fore realizes these programs would not exist without the support of the community.
“I speak for the other 13 veterans who are here when I tell you there are no words to describe how much we appreciate this. And we who go overseas and fight these wars, we raise our hand for that, but when we come home and we have opportunities like this, it reminds us that there are Americans out there that are good and there are things worth fighting for and we cannot thank everybody up here enough, all the golf resorts, the hotels, restaurants, the Vail Veterans Program, I mean, everybody that has any hand in this, I don’t know if anyone will ever understand just how much this means to someone like me or the other veterans here.”