Vail Veterans Program welcomes 23 injured service members to the slopes this week
From nervous and overwhelmed to now inspiring and grateful, this progression exemplifies what Crystal Radice-Dunblazer, a retired Army nurse, experienced with Vail’s Veterans Program.
Radice-Dunblazer is a below the knee amputee and had an amputation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX. She was there for most of 2019 doing pre-surgery physiotherapy and post-amputation rehabilitation. It was while she was there that she was selected to attend the Vail Veterans Program in January 2020 and participate in one of Vail’s non-profit winter family programs.
The Vail Veterans Program provides injured service members and their families with innovative, transformative, and inspirational programs that build confidence and improve lives.
“The family program was my first mountain trip since my amputation. I was very nervous and scared because my amputation was still quite recent, less than a year,” Radice-Dunblazer said.
“I had high hopes of being able to come back there, I had been to Colorado a hundred times for snowboarding trips with my dad, but it was extremely difficult so I ended up doing the ski bike which I fell in love with. It was so much fun.”
Vail’s Veterans Program works with Vail’s Adapted Ski and Snowboard School, which can provide the appropriate equipment and adaptations for the specific needs of veterinarians.
Radice-Dunblazer and her husband, Ryan, also a veteran, and their three children, ages 20, 14 and 11, all hit the slopes.
“It was so wonderful having them with me here and sharing the experiences that I shared with my dad,” Radice-Dunblazer said. “To see their joy of being here learning something new, having so much fun and they got to see me there having fun too, it lifts your spirits so much.”
Radice-Dunblazer was invited back to the Winter Mountain Adventure program on Vail Mountain earlier this week, which is an adult-only program. The Vail Veterans Program hosted 23 injured veterans, 13 guests and four military hospital staff.
“This week has been amazing! We love our kids, we really love them, and we were so lucky to have brought them the last time we were here, but this trip has been…I’m going to get emotional now…this trip has been such a blessing to us d be able to be absent, just the two of us, and reconnect and enjoy experiences in the mountains. It was so nice to have Ryan by my side during the tough games as well,” Radice-Dunblazer said.
Radice-Dunblazer released their snowboard this year.
“I couldn’t help but smile because it felt so good to be on my board and even though you still deal with some pain issues and some fear and doubt issues mentally, that changes when you you’re on the mountain, it really does. I just couldn’t stop smiling,” Radice-Dunblazer said.
After the first day back on snowboarding, Radice-Dunblazer was in too much pain to ride the next day.
“I was so swollen I couldn’t put my leg up, so I bike-skied all day,” Radice-Dunblazer said. “The good thing about the Vail Veterans program is that they have different types of adaptive equipment and the instructors are so knowledgeable and understand a little more about the limitations that we have as adaptive athletes.”
As an alumnus of the Vail Veterans Program, Radice-Dunblazer could help newbie veterans get the most out of this experience.
“I would tell them it can be nerve wracking, it can be scary not knowing what you’re getting into, but do it anyway. Meeting the challenges here helps translate into other areas of your life.
The Vail Veterans Program offers these events and more free to veterans. To find out more, visit VailVeteransProgram.org.