Aspen Public Radio: Determination drives participant to progress at National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic
Aspen Public Radio
At the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, many participants have already transitioned to civilian life after years or decades of military service.
But there are some participants who still want to maintain active-duty status, like Airman 1st Class Lauren Arduser from Missouri.
She’s a determined 22-year-old, and she admits maybe a little stubborn, too, which may explain why she’s so intent on recovering from the spinal-cord injury that left most of her body paralyzed last spring.
The car accident occurred a year ago when she was training to be a Russian linguist for the U.S. Air Force. At first, she could only lift her arms, but now, she can walk with leg-brace support and a walker or cane.
“I gave myself the goal of, in the first six months, ‘This is where I want to be, or I want to get back to, at least doing as much independence as I can,’ and then I got there,” Arduser said. “And then I was like, ‘Okay, I need a next goal.’ So the next goal was, at a year, I want to be able to do XYZ.”
She’s entering the military’s Temporary Disabled Retirement List while she continues her recovery, with hopes of meeting military standards and returning to service within a few years.
“I’ve definitely made a lot of progress, and I’m hoping that even more comes,” she said. “Just talking to all the different vets here, they’re very positive and hopeful for me.”
And if that doesn’t work out? Her backup plan is civilian contracting with the National Security Agency.
“Either (the military) can take me back or I can just do that, you know, use my skills that I learned,” Arduser said.
She brought that determination to the slopes of the Snowmass Ski Area, too, where her goal on Tuesday was learning to ski in a sit ski with outrigger poles to help with balance.
It would be her first time sliding on snow – there isn’t much mountainous terrain where she’s from in Missouri, she noted – and she was both excited and nervous for the experience as she waited to be fitted in a sit ski on the Snowmass Mall.
But after an initial run just 400 yards down the hill to the base of the Village Express chairlift, she was already proving to be a quick study. Her instructors Bob Baumann and Jim Carlson gave some pointers on flat land before the group loaded the lift for the first real run of the day. Even as a self-proclaimed “perfectionist,” Arduser was feeling good about the initial descent.
“I was trying to do it as perfectly as possible,” she said. “I don’t know how I did, but I thought it was really fun, regardless.”
This week in Snowmass Village is putting her out of her comfort zone, she admits, but she also sees it as a valuable experience socially as well as physically.
“I think it’s really nice to be in a place like this, meeting so many people who have injuries similar to mine because back home, I didn’t have that,” Arduser said.
Most participants have permanently retired from the service, and many are decades older than her. Even so, she’s finding hope and promise talking to her fellow participants about all the possibilities she can still pursue.
“That’s exciting, just knowing that everything, all of the goals that I had a year ago, they can still happen, you know?” she said.
She even met another active-duty service member at the clinic who isn’t much older than her.
“It’s nice to see people not willing to just give up at every avenue,” she said. “Because I’ve definitely met people who are like, they stubbed their toe, and they’re like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to get out. I’m done with the military,’ and that’s not what I want. I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Well, just take the money and get out.’ That’s not what I want, so it’s nice to see other people have the same aspirations as me.”
Jim Carlson, one of Arduser’s ski instructors from Minnesota, has been coaching adaptive skiing for 17 seasons and coming to this clinic for seven years. He sees this week of events in Snowmass Village as evidence of the things Arduser and other people with disabilities can achieve.
“There’s a lot of activities that they can do,” he said. “And just seeing them conquer it, like going down the hill for the first time and realizing ‘Oh, wow, I just skied’ … I think a lot of people don’t understand that there are events like this, and there are so many avenues and so many opportunities for injured veterans and people in adaptive equipment all over.”
Carlson says he keeps coming back to this clinic and this work because he values the “refreshing” perspective participants bring to the slopes.
“You can’t let things bring you down,” he said. “You have to keep moving and keep pushing forward. And they are definitely the epitome of that.”
His fellow ski instructor Bob Baumann from Pennsylvania agrees.
“I get tears in my eyes because of people like Lauren,” he said. “It’s my little way of giving back … because I’m lucky. Not that they’re not lucky. But I’m lucky.”
Arduser, for her part, feels lucky, too, to have support from folks like Carlson and Baumann. By the looks of it, the coaching was working – and so was her determination – as she carved smooth turns through the corduroy with Carlson helping guide the sit ski from behind.
The National Disabled Winter Sports Clinic is organized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the non-profit Disabled American Veterans. It wrapped up Friday with a series of ski races at the Spider Sabich Race Arena and closing ceremonies in the evening.
Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, http://www.aspenpublicradio.org