The one thing I (or anyone who knows me) could have guaranteed you before last April, was that I would never be caught dead skiing. And then, because there is always an ‘and then,’ in the fall of 2017, I received an email from the Veterans Affairs (VA) regarding an adaptive sporting event, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic (WSC). The WSC is an annual week-long event in Snowmass Village, Co held by the VA and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) which is supported by dozens of incredible volunteers and sponsors.
This wasn’t just an average event for me, it would change the way I saw myself. It would expand the perimeter of limitations which had previously been set by my body and mind. I qualified for this event because of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from some time ago, but it’s not the only disability of mine that felt liberated by my experience in Snowmass. Chronic pain and migraines, nerve pain, PTSD, depression, and more, all of the issues that often consumed
me, they felt like typical everyday obstacles that week instead of feeling like torment cementing me to stillness. Brief backstory: When I attended this event, I had been back on my feet part time for little over a year after having been nearly house bound from the severity of my pain and accompanying troubles for two and half years.
With the guidance of my fellow veterans, some amazing volunteers, and cargo pockets full of faith and a little bit of, “screw it, how much worse can I get,” I geared up and hit the snow with my instructor, Betsey. She was patient and encouraging, full of spirit and guidance. All of the things I hadn’t been with myself in far too long. From the moment we hit the mountain it was magic. My boots and skis practically carried me and for the first time in over 10 years I felt weightless. My body wasn’t riddled with stress and pain. The never-ending tree lines seemed to oxygenate my worries right out of my very being. It wasn’t just therapy for my physical pain but my mental anguish as well. I shared that to share this…
I realized the importance of what I had gained. Learning to ski with the WSC successfully and positively altered how I view my mental health, my physical abilities, and myself. While the WSC is designed for veterans with designated disabilities, this same camaraderie is seen throughout other programs and sub-communities all over the world. Regardless of who your tribe is or the cultures you identify with, support and kinship are out there. It was an experimental process that led me towards accepting and embracing the things I am still capable of. Putting in the work and taking risks, lead me to the realization that adaptive sports just so happens to be one of my tribes. Learning this has been an invaluable asset to my self-care and the future I am building.
A note about Symphony:
I started writing Symphony after a late-night conversation with a dear friend and fellow Marine. He was grieving and processing the loss of a childhood friend and fellow Marine who had committed suicide. He and I had shared calls like these before. Too often. 22 veteran suicides a day and rising.
Symphony is dedicated to all of those whose battles never ended, for the minds that have difficulty resting, for those feeling attacked by their physical health, for those that feel alone, for those who are having trouble connecting with the world and themselves. Whether you are a veteran, a caretaker, or someone who has struggles lingering from your own experiences, Symphony is for you. You are not alone.
Resources for those in need: