The View From The Mountain
I was happy about being assigned to cover the annual VA/Disabled American Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colo., for a few reasons. I'm more comfortable outdoors than indoors, (except when foul weather is my reason for being there). I relished the opportunity to get some crisp, clean, low oxygen, reminds-me-how-out-of-shape-I-am air in my system, but the one thing I looked forward to more was an opportunity to be inspired by the veterans.
The event has been going on for 22 years now, and is not limited to the veterans who are on our radar from the current conflicts.
Hubbard isn't the type to feel sorry for himself. He choked up when he started reminiscing about the man who had saved his life, and about his wife of 63 years who had passed on less than a year and a half ago, but his tears were soon replaced by smiles and a desire to get on down the mountain and stop thinking about the pain.
There is a certain matter-of-fact tone when you hear some veterans describe what happened to them. It all depends on their state of psychological healing. The Veterans Administration was very conscious, as were we, about how we approached participants. For some of them these events are a chance to get away, to not be reminded of the bomb, the accident, the trauma, the loss; of their friends, their abilities. It is an environment where they are surrounded by fellow comrades who know the meaning of sacrifice, people who don't stare surreptitiously at their prosthetics, or ask them awkward questions with their eyes.
Bill White is a double amputee who scubas, competes in the Highland Games, lifts weights and can withstand far colder temperatures not because he is from Chicago, but oddly enough because of the science of heat loss. He explained to me that since we lose heat through our extremities, he is at a slight advantage in the cold. Considering that he is missing two of those extremities; an arm and a leg, and what remains of them are well wrapped and insulated, the heat just moves through to the rest of his body. An odd fact, I had never considered.
For many of these men and women, just being out in someplace as spectacular as Snowmass, on top of a mountain, was breaking ground. Consider that most people in wheelchairs are seeing life at about a three-to-four foot level. Perhaps they'll ride a glass-sided elevator, but being on top of a mountain and looking down that mountain is a bit of a psychological shot in the arm.
So many have stories of being in comas for weeks, if not months and almost everyone had stories of their grueling physical therapy. An event like this is where they put that work to the test, and for most of them, it pays off.
If you've never been to any event featuring disabled athletes, I'd encourage you to do it at least once in your life. The people who participate aren't the ones who sit on their couches and feel sorry for themselves, their predicaments, their lot, even when almost everyone around them would certainly allow the pity. These are the guys (and girls) who get up and go. They've all had their moments of weakness, when they regained consciousness to unrecognizable bodies, or became sadly conscious of diminished motor or mental skills, or when remembering their former skills and abilities. However, these are the type of people who are actively challenging themselves to be better day by day, a lesson the able-bodied could always use.
[Editor's note: Watch Hari's experience skiing with the veterans below!]
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