Former Marine, amputee finds new life, skiing career at sports clinic in Snowmass (video)
George Kellogg had a choice. He could easily have let his injury get the best of him, part of a string of unlucky and self-inflicted issues he was dealing with.
Instead, he decided to climb that mountain — at times, literally — and make the most of his situation.
“This chairlift is going to keep on going without me or with me,” Kellogg said. “I can either sit at the bottom of the mountain and cry over a beer, or I can ski down it.”
Nearly seven years after his accident, the Texas native has gotten pretty good at the skiing down part. This is especially impressive considering he only has one good leg to do it on.
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Kellogg, who now lives in Granby, is a former Marine and fourth-year participant in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, held the past 18 years in Snowmass Village. Hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans, it’s the largest rehabilitation program of its kind in the world. More than 400 disabled veterans took part in this year’s programming, which wraps up Friday.
“This is the best thing, I think, the VA has to offer,” Kellogg said Wednesday from Snowmass. “If you do this right and you take this program as it’s suppose to come, it will change your life. And it can be used as a spring board, a launching, to go somewhere else.”
As unique as Kellogg’s journey has been, it’s also similar to so many of the veterans who have spent the past week skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, scuba diving and taking archery lessons as part of the sports clinic. Currently 28, Kellogg had two stints in the military and was awarded two Purple Hearts during his service. During his first tour as part of the Afghanistan War, he was in a tactical vehicle that ran into an explosive that left him thankful to be alive.
This experience, and the rehab required, led to an opioid addiction. After turning to marijuana to help the pain, he was tested positive for THC less than two months into his second deployment and was discharged from the Marine Corps.
He left the military in June 2012. In September of that same year, while riding his motorcycle on a highway in Houston, he was hit by a vehicle. The accident took his left leg and forever changed his life.
“The tagline for the Winter Sports Clinic is ‘Miracles on the Mountain,’ and that’s absolutely true,” said Paul Dowsett, a ski and snowboard instructor from Canada. “We’ve seen so many transformative moments for so many veterans. George is just kind of the poster child.”
Dowsett has worked with Kellogg all four of his years at the sports clinic in Snowmass. A passionate skateboarder before losing his leg, Kellogg first found snowboarding as a suitable replacement, but didn’t enjoy using his prosthetic leg in that fashion. So, Dowsett suggested three-track skiing, which is essentially one-legged skiing with the aid of two outriggers for stabilization and turning. As it turned out, Kellogg had a hidden talent he was unaware of.
“It’s great therapy. It’s really hard, and that’s what makes it great,” Kellogg said of three-track skiing. “I skateboarded throughout the Marine Corp. I even took a skateboard to Afghanistan. Once I lost that, there was a big hole in my life.”
Skiing has filled that void, and it’s become more than a hobby. Somewhat coincidentally, Dowsett also instructed three-time Paralympian Melanie Schwartz back in the day. Schwartz, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, also is a three-track skier. She currently lives in Aspen and has trained with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.
Kellogg blames her for much of his newfound hunger to become a Paralympian himself. He now trains with the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, where he is making a push as a professional skier.
“She is the one who kind of sent me on the path, said it is not impossible,” Kellogg said of Schwartz. “I was living on a sailboat. I was planning on doing a circumnavigation. My boat hasn’t left the dock since the last Winter Sports Clinic. In fact, I’ve only been back to Texas for seven days since then.”
Kellogg said, in some ways, losing his leg also saved his life. He was headed down a dark road, but was forced to confront his own personal demons and now has a quickly evolving career as a ski racer ahead of him.
Dowsett and Kellogg stay in touch after the clinic ends each year. Kellogg credits his instructor as much as Schwartz, if not more so, for steering him toward a professional skiing career. And Dowsett believes Kellogg has a chance at success, simply because of his positive attitude and willingness to push on.
“George is one of the most coachable people I’ve ever met,” Dowsett said. “When you give George clear instructions of what you want him to do, when George trusts you he will do exactly what you’ve asked him to do. As a coach, there is nothing better.”
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