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Soldiering on

Steve Benson
Air Force veteran Daniel Young, of Cookfield, Tenn., reaches for the bell atop a climbing wall in front of the Silvertree Hotel. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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Commonly referred to as “Miracles on the Mountainside,” the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic descended on Snowmass Village last week with about 325 participants.

The program is the largest of its kind in the world, and due to the Iraq War, it continues to grow. This year, about 70 veterans from Walter Reed Hospital, which treats soldiers wounded in combat, are enrolled in the clinic. Most of the veterans arrived at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport on Saturday, and all wondered about the skiing conditions.Chris Johnson, a 20-year-old Marine from Pennsylvania who lost an arm in Iraq in June 2004, was curious about the warm, sunny weather that greeted the veterans in Aspen over the weekend.”Where’s all the snow?” he asked. “Do you think we can still find some powder?”

On Tuesday night, Elaine Buehler, the clinic’s acting director, said everything was running beautifully and the veterans were excited about Monday night’s snow storm. “The Iraqi Freedom kids are just having a ball,” she said. “Some of these guys are only two or three months out from their injuries, and they’re out here skiing, and they’re loving it.” In addition to skiing, the veterans are rock climbing, playing sled hockey, scuba diving, horseback riding, fishing and riding snowmobiles. Some went to the shooting range in Basalt.

“They’re keeping busy all day long,” Buehler said. “They’re filling their day and having a great time.” Before the clinic began, Buehler said it was important for the younger veterans who were injured in Iraq to get out and see that they can still do whatever they want. “They have an excellent attitude,” she said. “Some were initially kind of anxious, but now all of the vets have skied at least once.”There’s nothing these guys can’t do and they know it.”

As for the venue, Buehler said Snowmass couldn’t be any better. “They’ve welcomed us. We’re such a large group that we’re all over the place here, and they’ve worked with us to arrange everything,” she said. “The entire Roaring Fork Valley has been so welcoming to us … it has been tremendous.” The youngest veteran in the clinic was 19 years old, while the oldest was an 82-year-old who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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