By Connie Lawn and Charles Sneiderman
From tragedy can sometimes come great achievement and beauty. This is the case for thousands of wounded warriors and their friends or families. Those who are able can have the opportunity to attend many wounded warrior recuperative events around the nation. Two of the biggest take place in Colorado. The Hartford Spectacular is held at Breckenridge in early December. The major organizer is Disabled Sports USA and the majority of the funding is provided by the Hartford Financial Services Group.
The other major event is held in late March and early April in Aspen/Snowmass. It is largely sponsored by the Veterans Administration, with some help from volunteers and private organizations. Unfortunately, the number of wounded is increasing constantly. So, wounded warrior events can be held in many areas throughout the United States. The snow ones, which we attend, focus on skiing and snowboarding, of course. But other events include golf, fishing, horseback riding, water sports, running, and a host of other sports, which help to rebuild body and soul. These warriors are truly amazing! Kirk Bauer is the founder of Disabled Sports, USA. He lost a leg in Vietnam. This summer, he and two other younger amputees climbed up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. They only had one live leg between the three of them, but they survived the painful journey.
This is the spirit of the warriors. In the winter, they subject themselves to the coldest temperatures and conquer the steepest runs. The athletes suffer from lost limbs, brain injuries, blindness, hearing loss, or a plethora of other problems from their war experience. But, they can still out-ski and out-snowboard most of us.
The athletes come racing down the mountains on sit skis, or standing skis or snowboards. Sometimes they use poles with little skis on the bottoms. Some ski or ride with their artificial limbs; other put them aside and manage to balance on one ski. They are good and fast - don't get in their way! During white-out conditions, blind skiers have the advantage. Sometimes we try to follow them down the mountain by listening to the commands of their instructors. It is scary! Try to ski for a few minutes with your eyes closed, and imagine their challenge. Yet we have seen races where the blind skiers were the fastest on the mountain. They were so fast, they overtook their guides and felt the snow on their own.
Of all the memorable experiences we have had with our warrior friends, the most inspiring was meeting "Swifty," or Darren Swift of Cumbria, in the UK. He lost both his legs about the knees in an IRA bombing. Swifty comes to Breckenridge with the British group, called BLESMA, or the British Limbless Ex Service Members Association. Swifty is smart, funny, and one heck of a snowboarder. He rides his board on the stumps of the legs. At the top of the ski lift, he throws the board on the snow and does a handstand to get off the lift, and then get onto his snow board. What a man! We are proud to call him our friend.
There are so many experiences and so many memories. One morning, at breakfast, we heard a soldier tell his mates, "I had 17 surgeries." His friend said, "I had 23, and am still going!"
During our first event (we have gone to four in Colorado), Connie slipped into a steel pipe and got a black eye. It looked dramatic, and lots of jokes were made. But the soldiers also said "we were so worried about you." Connie could not believe it - they were worried about her, after all they had gone through!
You might hate these wars, but you have got to love these warriors. When you see them on the mountains, or anywhere else, thank them for their service and try to help them, if they need it. You may find they will help you more than you help them.