By Connie Lawn with Charles Sneiderman
Aspen and Snowmass hosted the 25th annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, also referred to as "Miracles on a Mountainside." About 400 Veterans and 600 volunteers participated, and one of the surprise guests was Vice President Joe Biden. He told the veterans he "got his rear end kicked by one guy on a sled and one guy with a prosthesis, and I'm a pretty good skier." Only he used a more vulgar word for rear! He also quoted John Steinbeck, who said, "Soldiers are the most holy of all humans because they are the most tested."
Aspen and Snowmass are fantastic resorts, as any skier and snowboarder knows. But this year I got a more interesting perspective; I managed to break my hip Friday, during the last day of skiing in Vail. I did not know it was fractured, and skied down part of the way on it, before I downloaded on the chair. The three mountain hosts who skied down and rode the bus with me may have saved my life. I did not think it was broken, since I was able to ski down partway. I guess my fifty years of ski experience served me well! The next day we took an early morning shuttle to Snowmass. The Colorado Mountain Express is the best way to go, and we got door-to-door service. We did see at least two accidents en route, and were very pleased to leave the transportation to an experienced driver.
In Snowmass we checked into the Pokolodi Lodge, where we had stayed two years ago. It is reasonable, comfortable, and well situated. Dave Mercatoris, the general manager, made us feel at home. I had called ahead for a room on the ground level, and he did some magic since they were fully booked for the convention. The view from the room of the freshly snow-covered mountains was worth millions! The sky was a perfect blue, the snow was virgin white powder, and everything looked like a movie set. Wish I could stay forever, even if I can't ski any more this season.
In the afternoon, Charles took advantage of the sunny weather, 22 inches of new snow and gleaming slopes. I urged him to do so, because the weather looked snowy the next few days. I grabbed a ski pole to use as a cane, and then hobbled across the street to register for the DAV Sports Clinic. I barely made it -- the pain was intense. One of the volunteer doctors at the event thankfully got a wheelchair and wheeled me to the Snowmass Emergency Clinic. They are wonderful and are experts in snow and ice injuries. They are professional, clean, caring and polite. Despite my reluctance, they convinced me to have X-rays. It is a good thing; I had a hip fracture. After about an hour, I was in an ambulance and enroute to the Aspen Valley Hospital. The view from the back of the ambulance was great -- I had plenty of time to study the mountains. And I was in too much pain to really be frightened.
Thank God we were able to contact my husband Charles, who is a doctor. I would not have gone through it without him. At the hospital, I saw an orthopedic surgeon who explained that I needed pins to stabilize the fracture. I did not even have time to be scared. Everyone at the 25-bed Aspen Valley hospital is superb. They also serve wonderful gourmet food -- it has to be one of the best little hospitals in America. It is almost worth the trip for the chocolate milkshakes alone. We haven't seen the bill yet!
This is the second Disabled Veterans Conference we have attended in Snowmass; we have also gone to several in Breckenridge and in the Mid Atlantic region. The fortitude of these disabled veterans is amazing. Most of them have suffered horrible injuries. They have endured numerous operations. Some of them are never really cured after their wounds and many suffer so called "invisible wounds" or brain and psychological damage. These clinics in the beautiful mountains are meant to regenerate them, mentally and physically. Some of the events are free, or are held at a discounted cost. Most of the Veterans Conferences rely on volunteer aid and contributions; this one gets some funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but Disabled American Veterans, corporations and individuals are the major donors. The public can contribute at miracles.dav.org.
The activities in this conference focus on the snow and mountains, of course. But there are scuba diving lessons taught in a heated swimming pool on the mountain. I took one two years ago. It is bizarre to swim with mounds of fresh snow on the side of the pool. There are lessons in alpine skiing, cross country, snowboarding, and snowshoe hiking. There are also special instructions for the warriors who ski with the adaptive equipment, for athletes who have lost limbs. And there are special groups for visually impaired skiers.
There are races, games, and ceremonies during the week. With summer approaching, there are clinics held around the country for wheelchair games, fishing, kayaking, swimming, golf, and other warm weather sports.
These wounded veterans have given much and are still prepared to fight for their country. But they and their loved ones also deserve some time to recuperate with friends in the fresh air and beautiful country.