Vail Veterans Program’s summer golf a little about golf, a lot about life | VailDaily.com

Vail Veterans Program’s summer golf a little about golf, a lot about life

WOLCOTT — Alex DeVilling hits golf balls so far he should file a flight plan.

DeVilling is a long-drive professional and was one of the golf experts helping this week's Vail Veterans Program summer golf group at Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club in Wolcott. He spent much of his morning teaching the guys how to hit golf balls as far as he does.

They can't, of course. Almost no one can, but the fun is in trying.

Devilling shattered a watermelon, drove balls through a sheet of plywood and launched golf balls practically through the hole in the ozone.

He hit a box of Titleist, which is to say that he teed up a box containing a 12-pack of Titleist golf balls and hit it. The box went further than most of us can hit a ball. Fourteen heroes laughed out loud as they basked in the morning sun at Red Sky Ranch. They laughed a lot this week.

This is the Vail Veterans Program's seventh annual Red Sky Ranch session. Time flies when you're doing good and having fun.

Seven years on

Eight years ago, Dorothy Cohen was playing golf with Cheryl Jensen, Vail Veterans Program founder and CEO, and a force of nature.

"How about a Vail Veterans Program golf program?" Jensen asked her golfing buddy Cohen that day.

Cohen is a practical sort, and started popping out sensible questions, such as, "Can we adapt golf?" and the most sensible, "Can we raise the money?"

The answer to both was, "Yes."

Cohen has been a Red Sky Ranch volunteer since the vets started golfing there. Red Sky Ranch members make it possible, she said.

Just this past week, Marty and Tim Farrell hosted an event in their home where retired U.S. Army Special Forces Sua Tuimalealiffano was the keynote speaker. He suffered a spinal cord injury while serving our country in Afghanistan. Now he's a quadriplegic.

"The Vail Veterans Program is the difference between suicides and struggles by veterans, though both actually are not farther from each other. One group sees no hope, no reason to exist. The other is seen, persuaded and motivated by those who know better," he said.

Sua's story tugged at heart strings and purse strings. A couple of Red Sky Ranch members put up a $125,000 matching grant. So far, the Vail Veterans Program has raised $75,800 toward that match.

It's worth it, Cohen said, because they get to be around genuine heroes and see the results.

"We see them change in their golf abilities and in their personalities," Cohen said.

Healing happens

The cycles tend to repeat themselves. The vets arrive Monday, unsure what to expect. They leave Friday, swapping stories and contact information like old friends.

Some guys come to Vail after spending too much time in the dark watching television, isolated and alone. They are not alone.

"We've never seen anything like this," they say.

Neither have we.

Most have some golf foundation. Some don't. A triple amputee wanted to learn to play, so the Vail Veterans Program made it happen.

Tim Johanssen helps run a veterans program at the Spring Valley Golf Club near Castle Rock. It sold out in minutes.

Johanssen has Imperial Storm Trooper club covers and a Star Wars knee joint on his titanium leg. He already knew about things like patience and acceptance.

"Golf helps reinforce the need to put your immediate past behind you and keep moving forward," Johanssen said.

"Life is like that, too," said Shaun Elizondo.

Kevin McCloskey won a regional golf title for double amputees. He's from Philadelphia and said you'll find the City of Brotherly Love's best Philly Cheesesteak at Steve's.

Golf, he said, can shed some light on your life, both literally and metaphorically.

"Being in the sunlight," McCloskey said. "Some vets are in some dark places. Golf gets you outside into the sunlight."

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

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ABOUT THE VAIL VETERANS PROGRAM

• The Vail Veterans Program is trying to match a $125,000 grant. To donate, go to http://www.vailveteransprogram.org or mail a check to: Vail Veterans Program, P.O. Box 6473, Vail, CO 81658.

• Since 2004, the Vail Veterans Program has been providing military injured and their families with innovative and transformational programs that build confidence and improve lives through individualized outdoor therapeutic and rehabilitative programs. The outcomes of the programming encourage healthy recovery, personal growth and the building of lifelong communities of mutual support for veterans and their families.

• The Vail Veterans Program partners with the Naval Medical Center, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center and the Center for the Intrepid to provide much-needed programs for its patients. All programs are offered at no cost to veterans, their families or supporting medical staff.

• For more information, go to http://www.vailveteransprogram.org or call 970-476-4906.