“Support Our Troops” has been a national battle cry ever since 9/11 and the resulting U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Adaptive Sports Foundation at Ski Windham is answering that call this weekend by putting 30 or so severely wounded servicemen and women on skis and snowboards — most of them for the first time.
This is the fifth consecutive winter that ASF and Windham have teamed with Disabled Sports USA, the Wounded Warrior Project and the New York City Fire Department to host soldiers who were injured during recent tours in battle zones.
Many of them are amputees being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Besides amputations, injuries include spinal cord and nerve damage, visual impairment and traumatic brain injuries.
“Many of them are right out of the hospital, and this is the first test of what they can or can’t do with their injuries,” said Karen Feldman, a volunteer Windham instructor and press liason for the area’s Support Our Troops weekend.
“It’s been a huge success. These are extraordinary individuals with extraordinary dreams, and they realize their lives are just beginning.”
The program is designed to build self-esteem and confidence as the participants learn to negotiate snow-covered slopes with the help of specialized equipment and highly skilled ASF instructors.
“Some of them have never seen snow before, and they come in scared to death,” Feldman said. “By lunchtime on the first day, they have on big grins, so it’s an amazing transformation.”
Severals of this year’s students are returnees and one, Jeff Adams of Alabama, has been in the program for each of its five years.
“Jeff is now a certified instructor and this year, he’ll have a student of his own to instruct,” Feldman said.
Adams lost 96 percent of his left leg to a roadside bomb while serving in Bhagdad. He now skis with one regular ski and one regular boot and the help of outriggers (small skis attached to crutches).
In a recent telephone conversation, Adams said skiing helps to develop balance, strength, confidence and the desire to accomplish even more.
“On skis, I can go just as fast as an able-bodied person,” he said, adding that participants in the program develop an “OK, what’s next?” attitude that stays with them when they leave the slopes.
Seventy-five or so ASF instructors will be on hand this weekend, with two or three instructors assigned to each student. Many on the Windham staff are Vietnam War vets, and some are disabled themselves because of injuries sustained.
Feldman said New York City firemen help out in many ways, including transportation around town and to and from event.
The firemen are involved because they have a common bond with the soldiers and marines, said Eric Schamanski, a firefighter with Engine 231.
“We share some 9/11 stories, and the soldiers and marines tell us about thir war stories,” Schamanski said. “It is good for both the firemen and the troops. On 9/11, we were attacked . . . then they took up the battle. We feel that the soldiers and marines are our brothers. They sacrificed, we are grateful and we will always take care of them.”
Besides the ski/snowboard lessons, Support Our Troops weekend at Windham will include snowtubing, apres ski parties, dinners and entertainment.
The warriors were scheduled to arrive at Albany International Airport on Thursday, with their instruction beginning today.
Queensbury High School scored another double win at its own Nordic invitational Saturday at Crandall Park.
Actually, it was a double/double, with the host school winning the boys’ and girls’ team titles, and Spartans Kevin Sprague and Carly Wynn taking individual honors.
Finishing after Sprague in the boys’ race were Dan Stevens (Scotia-Glenville), Steven Petramale (Lake George), Pat Carroll (Queensbury), Will Frielinghaus (Queensbury), Drew Nevins (Queensbury), Willie Underwood (Lake George), Aaron Newell (Queensbury), Jon Zabin (Scotia-Glenville) and Tyler Morse (Johnsburg).
The team scoring for boys was Queensbury 10, Scotia-Glenville 24, Lake George 29, Johnsburg 36, Guilderland 60, Shenendehowa 71, Saratoga Springs 81, Canajoharie 84 and Johnstown 107.
In the girls’ race, Wynn was followed by teammates Juliann Lajoie and Danielle Winslow for a perfect score of six. The next seven individuals were Katie Christoffel (Shenendehowa), Chelsea O’Reilly (Queensbury), Emily Burns (Johnsburg), Caroline Savitz (Lake George), Courtney Davis (Guilderland),
Rachel Bachman (Queensbury) and Ariel Orlando (Scotia-Glenville).
After Queensbury, the next three teams in the girls’ race finished one point apart — Guilderland with 36, Shenendehowa with 37 and Lake George with 38. Then came Scotia-Glenville (45), Johnsburg (52), Mayfield (79), Glens Falls (81) and Johnstown (97).
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