Vail Veterans Program back on the snow with vets and families
After nearly two years, the Vail Veterans Program welcomed 11 veterans and their families to Vail Mountain this week. The Vail Veterans Program, which was established in 2004, provides injured service members and their families with free, world-class therapy programs designed to build confidence, create lasting relationships, and harness the freedom that the mountains bring to everyone. we.
Some vets come directly from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California. Other veterans are literally veterans of the program and have been involved in these trips a few times, such as Mark Haegele, a retired United States Marine Corps corporal, who has been on three programs in the last decade.
“I first came to the winter program 10 years ago, but I was straight from Walter Reed and I don’t remember much,” said Haegele, who is a double amputee from above the knee.
“It’s so much fun this time around. My kids are 5 and 6 and learning, and my wife is snowboarding and loving it,” Haegele said.
Haegele is on a monoski and has progressed to advanced terrain at the top of the mountain. “I give all the credit to my instructor, but he’s starting to know my style. He knows my mindset being in the Marines that for me to do something he has to drop me and go after this and it works, I get it back pretty quickly.
Not all injuries are physical
Vail’s Adapted Ski and Snowboard School provides instruction and modified equipment for the Vail Veterans Program, but not all Wounded Warriors have physical injuries. Cindi Craig was in the US Navy for 22 years and describes her injuries as being of the invisible type.
“I’m very talkative and have a bubbly personality and I cover everything up. As an adviser in the Navy, I was dealing with everyone’s pain and not taking care of myself and it was getting too much,” Craig said.
Craig eventually sought treatment in a program called Safe Harbor and one of the therapists recommended that she attend a Vail Veterans program session in the summer of 2019. She also attended the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute through the through the Vail Veterans program and was excited to come to a winter program.
“Being here makes me realize that I’m not alone and it makes you realize that you can do all of these things no matter what’s going on in your life. So that ignited a kind of fire in me,” Craig said.
When it comes to snowboarding, Craig is also excited about it.
“I’m bruised and sore after three days of learning, but I’m going to get through this today,” Craig said.
The group is small, and even though the schedule is filled with skiing and snowboarding during the day and dinners and activities like bowling and tubing at night, the bonds that form create lifelong friendships. .
“You share so much here. Last night at dinner someone said, “I think meeting you is the reason I had to go on this trip”, and it made me cry, because they can’t see my physical injuries, but I shared with them my invisible wounds and it showed that person that I had issues like them, we can all relate. The connections we’ve all made this week have been amazing,” Craig said.
The Vail Veterans Program offers these and other events throughout the year at no cost to veterans and their families. To find out more, visit VailVeteransprogram.org.