Vail Veterans Program welcomes back summer participants

The Blain family enjoy a raft trip as part of the Vail Veterans Program.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy Photo

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, summer programs are back for veterinarians participating in the Vail Veterans program. The summer version of the successful winter program brings injured service members and their families for a week of fun, camaraderie and growth with the mountains as a backdrop.

“The Vail Veterans Program is excited to resume the 2022 Summer Family Program, as well as our Summer Family Support Programs. Our veterans and their families have the opportunity to connect with each other through activities and new experiences, learn new coping mechanisms, and heal together in the Colorado Rockies,” said Jenn. Brown, executive director of the Vail Veterans Program.

What was founded in 2004 by Cheryl Jensen as a program for injured veterans and their families to participate in winter sports such as adaptive skiing, snowboarding and ski-biking, has expanded to the summer and includes a large amount of summer sports and recreational activities. such as rafting, fly fishing, zip lining and adapted biking.

At the Vail Veterans Program summer offerings, fly fishing, rafting and ziplining are just a few of the sports and activities designed to inspire participants.
Daniel Milchev/Courtesy Photo

Earlier this week, the Vail Veterans Program welcomed 14 veterans, 12 spouses and caregivers, 31 children and three hospital staff. This format provides space for families to reconnect and bond despite the new realities their family may be facing.

Ross Blain, who served as a gunnery master sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, was injured in Afghanistan in 2010 and was first exposed to the Vail Veterans Program while in at Balboa Naval Medical Hospital in San Diego. He and his family were able to participate in the Vail Veterans Program three times, once in the winter and twice in the summer.

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“I remember my first experience in the summer of 2017 and a new environment can always be challenging with PTSD, but the staff were so welcoming and meeting other disabled veterans and their families in that environment was so helpful,” Ross Blain said.

The Blain family took three trips with the Vail Veterans Program in the summer and winter.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy Photo

Ross’s wife, Gemma, remembers the raft trip with the family on that first trip to Vail.

“I admit the instructor had to hold us back and remind us that we needed to get in sync and work together, but we needed it. We needed that reminder and it was great to see that happen and have our family working together.

During family trips to the Vail Veterans Program, vets not only bond with other vets and other families, but the bonds within families grow stronger.

“Team building and re-establishing that chemistry as a family and going out there and doing things that we’ve never done before, as a family, is huge,” Ross Blain said.

“To see me and also to see my children gaining confidence in themselves, no matter what obstacle is in front of us, I think it is very symbolic in terms of life’s challenges and perseverance regardless of the obstacle. . You might be scared, you might be scared, but as you press down on it and step over to the other side, you think back to the experience and think, “Wow, that was pretty cool!”

Ross has six kids and they were able to come from all over to be part of Vail’s veterans program this week. The eldest, Ronald, is the one who flew the furthest, from England, where he plays basketball. The youngest, August, is 4 years old and he is just starting to experience the activities, but Guillaume, who was too young to experience much of the activities on the last trip, got into the activities and only showed no fear this year.

“I’m dizzy and when we were doing the zipline, Guillaume took the plunge, that is to say we fall off a cliff, and we’re all harnessed, but I still had fear. Then I thought, ‘If my 6-year-old can do it, I have to do it’ and I did it,” Gemma Blain said.

The Blain family cherishes the family time and bonding they get during the Vail Veterans Program.
Vail Veterans Program/Courtesy Photo

Ross’s daughter, Jaelyn, is heading off to college this fall and she’s enjoyed the family time and the boost in confidence.

“It was great to share these things with my family and it shows you that you can overcome your fears and discover new things. It also inspired me and I will bring these ideas with me when I go to university “said Jaelyn Blain.

The Vail Veterans Program builds relationships that go beyond the veterans stay in Vail. It’s a lifetime connection.

“The awareness, concern and compassion is incredible. We were having financial problems during COVID at the start of the pandemic and Cheryl reached out and helped our family financially and it had an immediate impact. They always communicate with us. I just can’t say enough about this organization,” said Ross Blain.

The Vail Veterans Program offers these events and more at no cost to veterans and their families. In August, the Vail Veterans Program will host a golf program and two military caregiver programs in September.

“It is so important to reunite our injured veterans, their caregivers and family members in person in Vail after the past two years to continue their healing journey and inspire hope,” Brown said.

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