Fog enveloped much of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains as we began the Wounded Warrior Weekend. The warriors and their families have faced greater challenges than this, and they bravely went into conditions that varied from fog, ice, and rain. But Wintergreen is known to have some of the best snowmaking in the business, and the slopes were in amazingly good shape. They also hosted the usual weekend guests, largely visitors from North Carolina to Virginia. No one can say Southern skiers do not have fortitude.
Wintergreen is one of our favorite Eastern areas, and the vistas are magnificent! Toward the end of the day Saturday, a cold front moved in, the fog lifted, and the Blue Ridge Mountains returned. It snowed overnight Saturday. We awoke Sunday to a wonderland coating of snow on the slopes and trees. The beauty of Wintergreen had returned! Wintergreen is about 160 miles from the Washington and Baltimore area. When you visit, it is best to get a group together and rent one of the handsome condos. Free shuttle buses take you to the slopes or the Spa.
When we arrived in Wintergreen Friday night, we were greeted with big signs saying, "Welcome Our Wounded Warriors." Yellow ribbons lined the roads, and many people wore them on their clothes. We are glad we left Washington by 2:00pm; an ice storm began minutes after we checked in. It would have been very dangerous to drive the mountain roads in that!
At the Wintergreen Lodge we were greeted warmly by people who remembered us. The programs for adaptive skiers and snowboarders, and for the warriors, are run by many of the same people. Sam Shaver is the Team Leader; Tom Brown the Executive Director, and amazing 29 year old Massey Teel is the Operations Manager. We missed the long time founder, Michael Zuckerman, who has "retired" and moved out of the area.
This year, 20 Wounded Warriors participated, along with 24 family members, 5 support personal, and two service dogs. The Warriors are rehabilitating in area hospitals, including Walter Reed, the Hampton VA Hospital, and Camp Lejeune. There is no cost to them for the weekend, which is supported by generous donations and fund raising projects (including a zany Mardi Gras in the spring). To donate, contact Wintergreen Adaptive Sports.
With such a full schedule not all the participants have time for interviews, but I had good talks with several of them. One was 24 year old Army Specialist Josh Craven. He lost his left leg in Iraq, and lost all sensation in his right, when a bomb hit his vehicle. Despite the loss of feeling, he can walk and snowboard. His wife Holly did home nursing care for him and challenged him to do snowboarding. Josh says he has to check his leg carefully for cuts and injuries, since he cannot feel when they occur. He pushes himself hard, and recently completed a handcycle marathon in one hour and fifty eight minutes!
I also spoke with a beautiful young woman named Jessica Mullen who nearly died from a brain hemorrhage 3 years ago. Part of her body remains paralyzed after her surgery, but she snowboards in addition to being a loving mother to an adorable son.
Another heroic story is that of Retired Army Captain Matthew Staton. He was shot six times in combat, and also survived explosions. Now he is a volunteer instructor for the programs.
My husband, Charles Sneiderman, took more runs than I did, and takes over from here:
The Highlands expert trails, Upper Cliffhanger and Lower Wild Turkey were well groomed and even the fog did not deter our warriors! I took a few runs with them and then returned to the Big Acorn lift where I could actually see the sun for a few runs. Big Acorn, Tyro, and Sunrise were all uncrowded, well covered and groomed, but my legs reminded me of my seniority and I retired (no pun intended) to upload some photos!
All in all, it was another inspiring Wounded Warrior Weekends. There is always so much to remember. One of the best messages came from Tom Brown, the Executive Director of Wintergreen Adaptive Sports. He says, "A hero is someone who does not give up in the face of challenge."