BY RICHARD RHINEHART
Holbrook, New York, March 21, 2012 – For many of the 15 participating wounded warriors at World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Soldiers to the Summit at Snowbird event, the three days was an opportunity to get outdoors and try challenging winter sports activities. For others, the February 27-March 1 event provided a chance to reconnect with beloved outdoor sports that had been forgotten or neglected owing to war and its personal effects.
Sponsored by Utah’s Snowbird Resort, the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird, Wasatch Adaptive Sports and American Airlines, the event included veterans from all service branches. Arriving at the Snowbird Resort from nine states as distant as Florida and Ohio, the wounded warriors selected from several winter sports activities.
“The majority of the veterans chose to ski, but those who wished to snowboard were accommodated by the Snowbird Resort,” said Kimberly Warpinski, World T.E.A.M. Sports Events Coordinator. “The Soldiers to the Summit event at Snowbird exceeded my expectations by a long shot. We had such a wonderful group of veterans that provided an excellent cross-section of military branches and various physical and psychological traumas.”
Retired Army veteran Nicholas Allen, injured during deployments to Germany and Iraq, has positive memories of the event. “It was life changing,” he said. “I had a great time with the all of the people who put this together. My instructor Lisa couldn’t have been more patient with me. I have a hard time getting along even with other veterans but I found that because of the welcoming environment of the Cliff Lodge, it turned out alright.”
Ruth Porter, caregiver for retired Army veteran Dane Kaimuola, who medically retired in 2009, reported similar feelings about World T.E.A.M. Sports’ winter snow sports event. “We all had a great time in Snowbird! I believe coming together like that allows the Vets to share their feelings and for us caregivers to also bond in our dealings with the plight of our loved ones. It is times like sitting around the table and being outdoors that we all really get to bond. Even the times we are sitting in the airport made the time just fly by, and gave us more time to get to know each other and make extended spiritual families.”
Issaquah, Washington Army National Guard veteran Paula Litch, injured in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan, reports the event changed her and her husband Michael, who accompanied her to Snowbird. “We now see that we can get back to doing things that we enjoy so much. These outdoor events may have to be modified for me from now on, but they can be done.”
As snow softly fell on the Snowbird Resort, veterans were paired with personal instructors for training on the slopes. “Some of the sit skiers even had two instructors with them at all times to ensure safety,” said Warpinski. “Everyone started out on Chickadee, the beginner slope, so that their skill levels could be assessed and could be taught basic skier safety. By the afternoon of the first day, a number of the veterans were heading up to blue and green level runs.”
“On the morning of the second day, the group took a tram ride up to the Ski Patrol lodge at the top of the highest peak. Ski Patrol shared with them the procedures they follow during avalanche situations and gave them an idea of their day to day life on the mountain,” Warpinski reported.
Evenings for the participants included massages and spa access, followed by group dinners. These communal activities allowed the group to share stories of the day’s adventures and challenges. “The first dinner when everyone came together, there wasn’t a lot of mingling amongst the group,” said Warpinski. “By the final banquet dinner, there was boisterous laughter and jokes being shared by all.”
“Everything was perfect – super venue, super people,” said Vietnam Veteran and amputee Charles Register of Santa Ana, California.