Vail’s Cheryl Jensen earns Women In Industry award from U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame
Jensen honored for Vail Veterans Program, SWAG and other wonderfulness
VAIL — You shouldn’t be surprised that Cheryl Jensen earned the Women In Industry Award from the United States Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
You also shouldn’t be surprised that when called for comment, she was a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, saying, “I’m taken aback and humbled. We don’t focus on honors and awards. We just hope our work does some good.”
Doing good around the globe
Lots of people talk about doing good, and some do. Jensen is among those who do lots of good but don’t talk much about it.
Jensen and a handful of others founded the Vail Veterans Program in 2004. In addition, her work reached the world when she and others hatched a plan to distribute “retired” ski resort employee uniforms to impoverished areas in the world’s cold-weather climates.
They started SWAG – Sharing Warmth Around the Globe — in 2000. They collect thousands of uniforms from 89 U.S. ski areas and deliver them around the world — some on military transport, some on pack animals walking — to remote areas in developing nations. SWAG’s 300,000th winter garment is expected to be delivered this month.
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Jensen will be presented her Women in Industry award March 27, during the Hall of Fame welcome celebration in Sun Valley Idaho.
In the beginning
That first Vail Veterans Program group arrived from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2004, but Jensen started more than a year earlier when she charmed her way into the Pentagon to extol the glories of snow sports and the healing powers of the mountains.
In 2003, just months after Operation Iraqi Freedom started, the number of military service injuries skyrocketed. Many injuries you can see — the amputees and burn victims. Others like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are more difficult to deal with. But vets with all of those injuries are here in Vail, winter and summer, often with their families, learning to ski and snowboard and getting part of their lives back.
Andy Soule, a double amputee Navy Seal, learned to ski with the Vail Veterans Program and competed in the Vancouver and Sochi Winter Olympics.
Army Lt. Colonel David Rozelle lost his leg in Iraq in 2003 and helped launch the Vail Veterans Program.
They scrounged up the money to cover the costs of hosting patients from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In 2004, seven injured veterans came to Vail to ski for that first Vail Veterans Program.
It was supposed to be a one-time event. It wasn’t, of course. As they wound up their week with dinner in the fire station in Vail, the guys kept coming up to Jensen, thanking her for the experience and telling her about other people who they thought would love something like this.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the firehouse.
Now, 16 years later, the Vail Veterans Program has hosted more than 3,000 military veterans, their families and caregivers, and offer transitional support for injured veterans adjusting to civilian life.
“VVP began as a one-time event, but the strength of our program over the last 16 years is based on forming relationships between our service members and their families. Our participants are empowered by each program they attend as they discover their own path to success,” Rozelle said.
A network for support
When the veterans, caregivers and families arrive in Vail, they’re struck with the realization that, no matter how isolated they may feel, they are not alone. They get to meet people who know exactly what they’re going through.
“It’s important that they see other families in similar situations,” Jason Hallett, a visiting veteran, said during a summer family session while his twins — a boy and girl — scrambled straight up a rock face, learning to climb.
Hallett was hit in Afghanistan — his Alive Day, the day he was wounded and didn’t die. He and his unit were working through a compound that they were told contained high-value targets. As they were checking out some sheds, Hallett warned his buddies to avoid wires hanging from a doorway. They might trigger a booby trap, he said.
Moments later Hallett stepped on a homemade bomb. The pain was searing and his screams sounded like they were coming from someone else far away. He was airlifted to medical help and began his long, painful road back.
Sgt. Richard “Tony” Doyle has a similar Alive Day story. These types of stories are tragically typical among the veterans who come to Vail.
Doyle’s armor-plated Humvee rolled over a roadside bomb. He remembers regaining consciousness and the tanks rolling up to secure the area. He remembers the doctor showing up and working on him. He and his now-wife Melissa were engaged. It was 10:30 p.m. when she got the call. They both lived through it. They got married. They had their son, Cayden.
Cayden’s proud parents say their son is more adept at problem-solving than most kids his age.
“He has developed a different way of figuring things out. It makes him a more independent thinker,” Tony said.
We all adapt, some more than others.
“We soon learned that we didn’t know what would happen, but the Vail Veterans Program is so good that no matter what it is, it’ll be fantastic,” Melissa said.
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