WINDHAM — More than a dozen injured veterans grabbed life by the horns this week by participating in adaptive winter sports at Windham Mountain.
Wounded Warrior Project and the Adaptive Sports Foundation hosted winter sporting events for wounded vets Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Activities including bi-skiing, monoskiing and adaptive yoga. Wounded Warrior has been helping injured veterans nationwide get back in the saddle for the last decade.
For the last eight months, the program has focused on increasing its follow-up routine with participants, Adaptive Sports Manager David Mynett said.
Donna Pratt of O’Fallon, Illinois, was introduced to Wounded Warrior in 2010.
“I was invited to a bicycle ride,” Pratt said.
Pratt, who developed cysts on her spinal cord during her 14 years as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, was restricted to a wheelchair at the time.
“I was able to use a handcycle,” she said. “It introduced me to a whole world of adaptive sports. It saved my life.”
Wounded Warrior’s mission is to empower wounded veterans, Adaptive Sports Manager David Mynett said.
“Our goal is to empower them and connect them to organizations and let them fly,” he said. “We want to get them to start their journey again.”
Pratt is just one example of a success story.
“Wounded Warrior showed me anything in life can be adaptive,” Pratt said. “I developed a model for my life because of it: I don’t adapt to life; life adapts to me.”
Pratt was using a bi-ski device Friday, which allowed her to ski while in a seated position.
“Upright skiing isn’t in the cards,” she said.
Bi-skiing is also an option for individuals who are paralyzed or have lost limbs, Pratt said.
Nigel Towler, of Burlington, New Jersey, was skiing for the first time on Friday.
“I’ve never touched one of these things,” he said. “I’ve only seen it in the movies.”
The Adaptive Sports Foundation helps veterans learn new skills, Mynett said.
“They often think they can’t take part in sports anymore when in reality they can,” Mynett said. “In fact, they can thrive at them.”
The events help veterans get out of the house and become integrated into their communities, Mynett said.
About one-third of all wounded warriors reported that physical activity helps them cope with emotional stress, according to a 2018 Wounded Warriors Project survey.
Towler was medically retired from duty as a master sergeant in the U.S. Army in 2017, after 23 years of service, due to post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries.
“The medical board told me to contact Wounded Warrior,” Towler said.
After signing up, Towler thought that would be the end of it. He was wrong.
“Three days later I got a call,” he said.
The first event Towler went to was a bouncy-house event, he said.
“It was awesome,” he said. “And I said to Jenn (a Wounded Warriors staff member), I want to be in.”
After participating in the Wounded Warriors Project’s Odyssey event, a 90-day mental health program, last year in Niagara Falls, Towler received two weeks of inpatient treatment in Boston.
“It was a life-saver,” he said. “I was in very bad shape.”
Towler recommended the Wounded Warriors Project to other veterans, he said.
“I would bring them personally if I can,” he said, “I think it is the most worthwhile program to veterans.”
Warriors have many sporting options to choose from, Mynett said.
“Sled hockey is very popular,” Mynett said. “Sailing is great for the visually impaired. Tennis, for someone with an amputated limb, they can just wear a prosthetic racket.”
Golf, climbing, cycling, winter sports and wheelchair basketball and softball are also common, Mynett said.
Warrior athletes can compete at three levels: the Warrior Games, the Valor Games and the Para Olympics, Mynett said.
Experienced athletes also have the opportunity to help newcomers.
“A lot of warriors still don’t know No. 1 about wounded warrior or No. 2 about adaptive sports,” Mynett said. “They are truly life-saving organizations.”