My skiing heroes don’t mind eating some snow
Vail, CO Colorado
I skied 2 feet of powder in Aspen on Friday.
I cruised through 8 inches of fresh stuff at Vail on Wednesday.
But I’d have to say my best day ever on the mountain came the previous Wednesday.
There was no new snow. I took two runs on beginner terrain and snowplowed the whole way down.
But I’ll never forget how much I smiled.
Last week, Disabled Sports USA hosted the Ski Spectacular, an event that featured skiing clinics for disabled skiers, instructor clinics, ski races, mentoring clinics and a learn-to-ski program for severely wounded service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, which is part of the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project.
Even before I hit the slopes, I got a sense that it was going to be an inspiring day. In the elevator, someone casually gave an 8:30 a.m. ‘How are you doing?’ to one of the Wounded Warriors.
After grimacing for a second and hinting at some pain, the Wounded Warrior said, “Any better, and it would be illegal.”
That sufficed as my morning cup of coffee.
I decided to follow around one of the Wounded Warriors, B.J., during his snowboarding lesson in the morning. B.J., who had lost most of his right leg in combat, was determined to learn how to snowboard.
“I told them I don’t mind eating snow,” B.J. said when I asked him why he wanted to get on a snowboard instead of trying to ski.
Only a few turns into the lesson ” his third day on a snowboard ” B.J.’s prosthetic leg stopped working (it had a remote control that regulated the flexibility). But B.J. just shrugged it off like it was an untied shoelace and got back to snowboarding.
During B.J.’s lesson, I watched his every movement and realized things I never even thought about ” like getting up from a fall ” required a great deal of effort. As he made his way down the slope and looked to move from his heel edge to toe edge, I found myself cheering him on internally, hoping he’d kick out some snow and head back in the other direction. About two hours into his lesson, B.J. linked three turns, and I had to keep myself from tackling him out of sheer joy.
Scattered around the slopes were plenty of Wounded Warriors like B.J, guys who were still rehabilitating from recent injuries but were giving snow sports a shot for the first time.
“I was up skiing a month and a half after I got hit,” said Jeff Adams, who lost his leg in Iraq on Nov. 7, 2004. “I still had bandages on and had to change them every night. I was scared to fall, but you get out there, you have two or three instructors with you, and they’ll hook you up and you learn. How can you not? You’re not going to get shot at or blown up. What will you do, fall down? Oh, no!”
Adams, who is from Baton Rouge, La., had never skied in his life before taking to the slopes in January 2005 for a Wounded Warrior event in Upstate New York.
“They came in and told me, ‘We’re going to teach you know to ski.’ I told them I’m a Southern boy … and I ain’t got no leg. The medication they are giving me is not as good as what they are giving you. But I got out here and started loving it. It’s a blast,” Adams said.
Last week, Adams was instructing guys like him, a position he hadn’t quite thought about when he first hit the slopes.
“It never crossed my mind,” Adams said. “I was just worried about falling, but as I got better and better, they said, ‘Why don’t you come teach some people?’ I thought it was perfect. I was taught by an able-bodied person … but if I ski down and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to teach you how to do that,’ you automatically have a little credibility because you know it is possible and can relate so much better.”
As amazed as I was by the skiing ability of Adams, I was more impressed by his attitude, and I started to realize that the Ski Spectacular wasn’t just about skiing.
“The goal is to get you back to your lifestyle,” he said. “We had lifestyles, but active lifestyles. People in the military are in shape. The last thing you want people to do is to stay at home and get discouraged.
“This isn’t just a short-term thing. This is something that is with us for the rest of our lives. It’s mental and physical. It’s a great thing.”
And it seemed to be a refreshing place for guys like Adams.
“Coming here is a reunion for a bunch of us. I’m at home, hanging with my friends, going to work, and I don’t know any other amputees,” Adams said. “I come here, say, ‘Hey have you tried this new thing, looked at that?’ You know. You are around people with like minds, like injuries and you know it’s funny, my wife says at home, ‘The one-legged one is mine.’ Here, she can’t say that. It’s great. All the camaraderie is here. Whether you are a disabled civilian or a wounded warrior, you have that level of respect.”
I assumed that Adams, who had nearly died for our country, at least get showered with thanks for his service, and this week was kind of an extension of that.
“You never really feel that at home,” he said. “Not until you come to these events and see it.”
Sadly, I never stopped to thank Adams or B.J., for their military service, for their dedication to skiing and snowboarding or just for being themselves. And I don’t think they know that no powder day will ever be deep enough to push the Ski Spectacular off the top of my list.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.