Snowmass adaptive clinic helps disabled veterans get active
For Jeff Combs, sports have always come naturally.
“You name it, I’ve probably played it,” especially if it involves a ball or puck, he said.
Combs also used to snowboard, but last week, he was back to square one. The former Marine suffered a spinal cord injury in 2012, and last Thursday, he was on his second day of learning how to sit-ski.
Like most beginners, his first day was hard. He had to learn the equipment, how to ski and communicate with instructors steering him from behind, and more than once on that one run of the day he said he fell down. On Day 2, it started out that way again, with a few falls on the run from the Village Express midstation back to Fanny Hill. But the third run of the day was one smooth, continuous trip down the mountain — with no falls.
Joining the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village was Combs’ first ski trip since his injury and his first time in the Roaring Fork Valley. The clinic, which also offers sled hockey, snowmobiling, water sports and a host of other activities, was eye-opening for the St. Louis resident.
“This has been way more than I ever thought it would be,” Combs said. “I had no idea this world even existed.”
“This world” being that of the sports available for people in wheelchairs. After his accident, Combs wasn’t very active at first.
“I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was in a wheelchair for the rest of my life,” Combs, 26, said. “I’ve found now that I enjoy doing stuff like this. I get to be around people who know what it feels like, who are going through the same thing.”
Combs has also been participating in recreational therapy back home at the St. Louis VA hospital. He’s working on getting his scuba diving license through an organization called Life Waters that one of his recreational therapists started, and he’s taking a diving trip to Cozumel in August.
And, he now hopes to go skiing again next winter. The Winter Sports Clinic annually takes place in April, but Combs hopes to go sooner than that by joining up with Adaptive Adventures, a nonprofit in Steamboat Springs.
Joel Berman, executive director of Adaptive Adventures, who joined Combs’ group skiing last Thursday, was encouraging him to do that as well as find additional sports to try this summer to keep active in the meantime. An experienced adaptive skier himself, Berman said participating in adaptive sports can be especially powerful for someone’s Combs’ age.
“It can change your whole life,” Berman said.
A partnership of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the charity Disabled American Veterans, the Winter Sports Clinic celebrated its 30th event this year, and the 16th in Snowmass Village. Some 323 veterans participated (114 of them first-timers), ranging in age from 21 to 84 and representing 43 states.
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