Beautiful conditions greeted the 8 wounded warriors, their loved ones, instructors, and therapists as they left their rigorous rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Hospital, to continue it on the slopes of Liberty. They were able to glide down the slopes on skis, snowboards, and sit skis, despite wounds which included the loss of legs, arms, and spinal and brain injuries. The group even tried snow tubing, despite some trepidation beforehand. We assured them it was fun, exciting, and safer than what they had gone through beforehand.
First, the slope conditions. It was a wonderful day, and expected to get better with the predictions of a natural snowfall. The snowmakers and groomers really did their best. All the 16 open trails had adequate cover, although they got a bit scraped down and hard pack in the afternoon, as is expected. We were surprised at how much snow is actually stockpiled in large sections of some slopes, such as Whitney’s Way. The piles were several feet high in sections. They could be skied through, and used to shovel on the mountain when the cover wore thin. This was especially useful for a race on Sunday.
The bumps were big on Eastwind and Strata, and it was inspiring to watch instructors and ski patrol members go through their paces on the moguls. They all looked so confident and in control! I preferred to exercise my “control” on Heavenly, Whitney’s Way, Blue Streak, White Lightening, and Sidewinder. Despite the events, the lines were not long, and they moved quickly. It was a bit overcast, and the 40 degree weather got colder as the light faded. But, it was a perfect day to visit the slopes.
Our experience was enhanced with two runs we took with instructor George Burke, who is a long time friend and neighbor. He told us we are too stiff, and need to think about peddling a bike, as we shift our weight from ski to ski. He also told us we need better equipment, and he is right! But, we often ski out West, and prefer to rent equipment. It is more up to date, and is cheaper than paying to carry on a plane. So sadly, our Eastern equipment suffers. I may get newer, heavier boots one day, but am fighting it for now.
It is fitting we were skiing with our friend George during Wounded Warriors Weekend. Like them, he is also a fighter. He survived a particularly brutal form of cancer in the past few years. George even skied with a chemotherapy pump in him, shortly after surgery. Now, when he is not skiing, George has returned to Capitol Hill, as communications director for Congressman Gerald Connolly. He is a masterful skier, and his fearless, competitive instincts help in politics as well.
Now we return to the Wounded Warrior Weekend. About 100 people work very hard to put it together. Perhaps the greatest credit should go to Leslie White, who has headed Adaptive Sports at Liberty for 10 years. She is also an president of BRASS, the Blue Ridge Adaptive Snow Sports Organization. BRASS, Liberty, the Times and News Publishing of Gettysburg, the Gettysburg Hotel, Quality Inn of Gettysburg, American Legion Post 202, and Disabled Sports USA, were among the establishments and organizations which sponsored this weekend. But, most of the teaching and assisting came from volunteers.
The athletes we watched made significant progress. Most had been skiers or snowboarders before they lost their limbs. Their bodies seemed to remind them about the proper moves, even though the limbs were missing. Some new athletes also made remarkable progress, including a young therapist from Walter Reed, who just started skiing this year.
We were especially impressed with our friend Manny Pina, whom we first met at Breckenridge. After losing a leg, he participated in a program. Now, he is also an instructor.
Most of the athletes remain in the active military, and are pleased about that. Others are continuing their education, and receiving financial help from the government. They intend to remain active and essential throughout their lives. They also maintain their intense patriotism, friendship, and sense of humor, which was evident at a banquet at the Gettysburg Hotel. There was also pathos there. Mrs. Debbie Higgins, the Mother of a fallen soldier, spoke about her ambitious plans to build a National Fallen Heroes Memorial near Frederick, Maryland. She wants to honor soldiers who have died in over 25 conflicts.
At the end of the evening, we said farewell, hugged each other, and made plans to meet at future athletic events. It is truly a privilege to be hugged and thanked by these young men and women!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.