PARK CITY — Veterans with disabilities who got a chance to visit Park City to ski and snowboard this week found more than great powder. Team Semper Fi and the National Ability Center treated them to the therapeutic benefits that come from spending time together and being active.
Katie Richens is the military and groups operations manager for the National Ability Center, which provided equipment training for the veterans. Being active, she said, helps disabled veterans with recovery.
"You're able to manipulate your body in ways that can develop strength, coordination and balance. You're able to push yourself mentally at a level that allows you to do something new … that allows you to develop competence, empowerment and lifetime skills," Richens said.
Veterans with disabilities — including amputations, spinal injuries, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder — were able to connect with others who face similar challenges, all while enjoying snow sports.
Bobby Donnelly works with Team Semper Fi to organize this event and other active events for veterans. He is also a veteran and a member of Team Semper Fi, having lost his leg after an injury in a training exercise. Team Semper Fi is part of the Semper Fi Fund, which provides support for post-9/11 injured veterans.
"Just being outside is really what helps them, there's a lot of mental clarity in what happens out there, when skiing with your fellow veterans. … I think community is what helps, too," Donnelly said.
According to Donnelly there were 25 veterans in the group on the slopes this week at the intermediate and advanced camp. Team Semper Fi has more than 2,000 service members who take part in activities throughout the year including marathons, adventure hikes and mountain biking.
Lee Hampton learned to snowboard during an event with Team Semper Fi and has been participating in the group for almost five years. He said through physical activity he finds mindfulness and will think of simple ways to solve problems he is dealing with.
"For me it's like the bread and butter of holding me together a lot of times, and I look forward to coming to these events because when I leave these events, it's almost as if I feel recharged," Hampton said.
He said some of his closest friends are the snowboarding team. They notice when he is feeling down or low, and they keep in contact between events through social media.
"There's a large amount of support here, and I hate to say that I don't get this support when I go back home, but it's the reality, I really don't," Hampton said.
TJ Brooks, who previously did marathons with Team Semper Fi, attended the snow sports event for the first time this year. He said he was glad for the opportunity to talk with other veterans and learn from them on the slopes.
"Coming to these events, a lot of times what happens is you have guys who really want to push themselves and get better at something and they end up dragging other veterans into it, so it creates kind of a reaching back effect," Brooks said.
According to Richens, activities like this help to bring a sense of camaraderie for veterans. She said many veterans developed close relationships in the service that are sometimes stripped away when they retire or have to leave because of an injury. Additionally, injured veterans are also often getting used to a different role in their own families.Comment on this story
"There's a lot of solitary sickness when you're going through mental and emotional and physical pain," Richens said. "That we are able to instill hope and joy back into what they're doing is our purpose."
After the snow activities this year, the veterans had a chance to participate in a yoga class and spend more time talking to each other in the lodge.
"I feel much more connected with life when I come here versus staying at home and doing what I do and not really wanting to go out, not really wanting to socialize with people," Hampton said. "When I come here, there's no question about it, it just really falls right into place."