Wounded Warriors spend special week in Mammoth

Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area hosted the fifth annual winter Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project.

Thirty-five wounded marines, soldiers and veterans, their family members and military staff enjoyed five days of recreation catered by DSES.

Participants joined DSES from hospitals and rehabilitation centers at San Diego and Arizona and Hawaii.
Veterans joined the program from as far away as Washington and Virginia.

Twenty-one individuals were flown from Southern California to Mammoth on chartered planes donated by individual pilots and owners. Others arrived on commercial flights from around the country.

Through a partnership between Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled Sports USA, DSES provides sports and recreation programs for wounded, injured and ill service members.

As part of their physical and psychological rehabilitation participants enjoyed skiing and snowboarding or their adaptive equivalent at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Nordic skiing at Tamarack Ski Center and snowmobiling with Snowmobile Adventures.

Equally important, the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project helps these service men and women transition into daily living with new-found abilities and helps them look past their injuries.

As USMC Lt. Col. Greg Martin said, this is about “focusing on ability rather than disability.”

One serviceman, Ben, a paraplegic, came from Arizona. He had fallen through the cracks since an auto accident in 2008 in terms of rehabilitation. “Ben was excited and really, really happy to be here,” said DSES director Kathy Copeland. “He was able to get into a cross-country ski rig, his first physical activity since his accident.”

Bethany, one of two female Wounded Warriors in the program, said she wants to get her certification as a recreational therapist and then come work for Disabled Sports.

Another participant, Harry, said, “I just love this place, I get out in two months. I’m coming back. I don’t care, I’ll be a garbage collector, I want to be here.”

And then there is Richard “Gonzo” Gonzales, a highly decorated Wounded Warrior who took so many photos, they ran on a loop at the front of the final luncheon room. Gonzo started taking pictures as therapy. “He’s got a natural eye for photography,” said Susan Morning, Mammoth Times photographer. “He documented the program from the soul of a Wounded Warrior.” And, he enjoys it so much he plans to pursue the craft in school.

The stories are heartwarming, as is the spirit that abounds within the Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra program. It is infectious; it makes the Wounded Warrior program soar.

“What a fabulous week,” Copeland said. “This was a great group.”