Cpl. Jeremy Walton was extremely hesitant to strap on a snowboard at last year’s Wounded Warrior Snowfest.
The former Marine had suffered lower back injuries and a severe traumatic brain injury during his tour of duty in Iraq and the effects had lingered.
“I’d been snowboarding all my life, but I hadn’t done it in forever,” the 29-year-old Castleton-on-Hudson resident recounted. “My knees and my back were still pretty bad and I was still fresh off of not using my walking cane anymore.”
Walton pushed his fears aside and participated in the event, which is now in its ninth year.
Sponsored by STRIDE Adaptive Sports, the 2014 Snowfest starts Friday and runs through Sunday. Twenty Wounded Warriors and their families will take part in the free weekend, which promotes healing through sports. The agenda includes a banquet, a tour of the New York State Museum and two days at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, where the injured service members will ski and snowboard with the help of STRIDE’s team of instructors.
Even those in wheelchairs can glide down the mountain, said Mary Ellen Whitney, president, CEO and founder of the Rensselaer-based STRIDE.
“We use adaptive equipment, if needed, or special instruction, and our instructors are trained in how to deal with some of the complex behavioral issues that may come about with someone that has anger, depression, medications that they take — all those things that might come along with a brain injury,” she explained.
Walton wore a back brace when he participated in Snowfest.
“My adaptive equipment was more support and patience,” he noted, praising the instructors who coaxed him onto his board and down the mountain.
Former Marine Roman Goddeau of Saratoga Springs has also participated in Snowfest. The 30-year-old suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury because of his proximity to a mortar attack in Iraq. The experience left him with anxiety about being in crowds.
After taking part in Snowfest in 2010 and 2011, he said his fear eased.
“They helped me to push myself to be around other people,” he said. “They make you feel wanted and welcome and make you want to push yourself and do better, and help other people, too.”
Goddeau now mentors skiers during Snowfest.
“It helped me basically get out of the rut, saying, ‘There is nothing more than this.’ It made me feel better to do for everybody and myself at the same time,” he said.
Walton also volunteers with STRIDE. He coaches snowboarding at Jiminy Peak and said he especially enjoys helping children with disabilities who participate in STRIDE’s adaptive sports programs.
“I can’t lead Marines anymore, but having these kids look up to me is awesome,” he said.
Volunteering with STRIDE provides many benefits to Wounded Warriors, said Whitney.
“We’re watching these young men heal,” she said. “The biggest thing is that they get up with a purpose. They’re wanted, they’re needed and they have something to do.”
For more information about STRIDE, call 598-1279 or visit www.stride.org.