SALT LAKE CITY — Both Lt. Col. Tres Smith and Maj. Peter Way found themselves in dark places after losing a limb in Afghanistan.
But both now-retired servicemen found physical and mental healing at the National Ability Center in Park City. On Wednesday, they spoke at the nonprofit's annual Saluting Our Heroes fundraising event.
The organization provides adaptive recreation and outdoor adventures for individuals and families of differing abilities. Many of their participants are wounded veterans.
Wednesday's event encouraged donations to a program that funds veterans' trips to Utah to participate in activities that provide countless benefits.
Way, of Georgia, was an avid mountain biker before his life-changing injury. When his leg was amputated above the knee, it destroyed that passion.
But after visiting the National Ability Center simply for a place to stay the night when his son was touring college campuses in Utah, he rediscovered his former hobby. He ended up staying several days and regained that part of his life. He now enjoys hand-cycling and has even recovered to the point of traditional mountain biking.
Way's participation in the center's programs changed his life, and he can't imagine life without it.
"I'd be homeless and destitute, or more likely dead. And I say that, not overdramatizing. I hit such lows," he said. "It was a blessing to come here."
Smith had physically recovered from taking several bullets and losing a foot years before his introduction to the National Ability Center. He even returned to combat as a Marine.
But later on, as he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, his friend told him about the center's PTSD program.
"I came out to experience a day of activities. And so, of course as a Marine, I wanted to do the sled hockey," he said. He was also interested in other adventurous, adrenaline-fueled activities.
But he was told he should instead participate in the horse therapy program.
"They said, 'You need to do this … you just need to try it,'" Smith recalled. "I did, and it was an unbelievable experience for me."Comment on this story
Not only did his time at the center help him with his own struggles, but it has helped him to better understand and communicate with his son, who has autism.
"That was probably one of the single greatest gifts I've ever been given in my life," Smith said. "My ability to communicate with him as his father has increased exponentially by a simple lesson that I never even wanted to participate in."
As Smith encouraged attendees to donate to the center's veteran program, he also thanked and praised the many veterans in the audience.
"As a veteran," he said, "you were willing to write a check, payable for your life."