Praises Volunteers Behind Vets Sports Clinic
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz thanks volunteer instructors
at the 19th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports
Clinic for lending their talents to helping disabled veterans.
by Cherie Thurlby / DoD Photo
Colorado – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
praised the army of volunteers behind the National Disabled Veterans Winter
Sports Clinic and their successes in helping disabled veterans confront new
challenges and build self-confidence.
secretary, here for the 19th winter sports clinic, recognized “the
extraordinary effort” the more than 500 volunteers put forward in orchestrating
the six-day program for some 350 disabled veterans.
are an inspirational group,” Wolfowitz said of the volunteers
during an interview with the American Forces Press Service. “And
whenever you thank them, they say this is the best thing they
by a meeting of the largest group of volunteers, an estimated
190 ski instructors from around the country, to thank them for
using their “incredible skill” to motivate disabled
why you do it,” the deputy secretary told the group April
5. “It’s an incredibly rewarding experience that
pays back double or triple, to see (the clinic participants)
respond and the effect it has on them.”
volunteer coordinator for the clinic for the past 11 years, said
serving America’s disabled veterans is a labor of love
for his volunteer staff, who typically return year after year
to assist at the clinic.
In fact, Townsend
said, there’s so little turnover in the volunteer force
for the clinic that his desk drawer is full of business cards
of people on an unofficial “waiting list” to offer
biggest problem we have with our volunteers is that no one wants
to drop out,” he said. “They are all committed volunteers.”
them so committed, he said, is a shared dedication to disabled
veterans. “All you have to do is come once and you see
these people we’re here to support,” Townsend said
of the veterans.
you need is for one veteran to thank you for being there, and
it makes it all worthwhile. Once that happens, you’re hooked,” he
said. “It’s easy to understand why a lot of these
guys who keep coming back live for this.”
serve a wide range of roles, from transporting clinic participants
to laying ramps so all venues are handicapped accessible to providing
media support to serving as coaches, team leaders and instructors.
who has volunteered for the event for all but three or four of
the clinics, called his job of team leader “probably the
best job out here because you get to interact so closely with
the participants” throughout the six-day schedule of activities.
more from the clinic than I could possibly give back,” Mullins
said. “It’s an opportunity to give back. It’s
a wonderful, life-lifting experience to see these men and women
out here, and it’s one small way that I can give back and
say, ‘Thank you.’”
a ski instructor at the Breckenridge (Colo.) Outdoor Education
Center, returned to the winter sports clinic for the third year
to teach bi-ski techniques to disabled veterans.
the gratification of the job is helping veterans break through
boundaries and discover new capabilities. “It’s really
great to watch veterans progress and do something they didn’t
think they could do,” he said.
and instructors and coaches for activities ranging from snowmobiling
to scuba diving to trap shooting make up the next-largest group
for example, volunteers at the Lewis Ice Rink in Aspen, Colo.,
where he and his fellow volunteers help disabled veterans participating
in the winter sports clinic master the techniques of sled hockey.
this just to help the guys out and do something for them,” Tadych
said of the volunteers’ efforts.
Jeanie Gechter is among the longest-serving volunteers here,
participating in the first winter sports clinic in 1986 and not
missing one since.
57 years to a disabled Marine Corps veteran, Gechter said she
has a soft spot in her heart for people with disabilities and
serves in a wide variety of volunteer jobs to support them.
At the winter
sports clinic, she and her fellow volunteers work from 6:15 a.m.
until nearly 9 p.m. to ensure participants get breakfast, lunch,
dinner and just about anything else they need. “We carry
their trays and do anything else a disabled veteran needs us
to do,” she said. “We kiss them; we hug them; we
chief engineer at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cleveland,
Ohio, has taken leave from work for the past three years to volunteer
his serves as a “boot loader” at the clinic. Tall
and strong, Costie stands at the bottom of the ski lift, helping
load veterans in adaptive sit-skis on the chair lifts. Another
boot loader rides with the veteran to the top of the lift and
assists in offloading, he explained.
the opportunity to interact with the participants drives him
to return to the clinic each year. “It’s so inspiring
to see them be fearless despite their disabilities,” he
wife, Tammy Thomas, has also worked at the clinic for the past
four years, providing media support for participants’ hometown
publications. Thomas said she never tires of hearing personal
stories about their disabilities and their refusal to be kept
down because of them.
guys are just amazing. I’m so impressed,” Thomas
said. “It feels great to be a part of all of this.”
who taught self-defense classes at the clinic for the past 10
years before retiring from the Secret Service last spring, returned
this year as a volunteer and representative of his new employer,
Lockheed Martin Corporation, a corporate sponsor of the event.
a genuine need to help those veterans who served our nation as
they turn the corner and see that they can succeed,” Camillo
said. “When they were in uniform, they were prepared to
defend the country. Now we need to be sure we’re prepared
to help them.”
Laud, Encourage Disabled Vets
By Donna Miles
Bo Derek jokes with Jaime Garcia, a first-time participant
in the winter sports clinic.
by Donna Miles / DoD Photo
VILLAGE, Colorado — Actress Bo Derek said she wouldn’t have
missed the opportunity to mingle with more than 350 disabled veterans
gathered here at the 19th National
Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
It’s such a positive, happy experience, and it’s
so wonderful to see all the attention going to the veterans who
deserve it so much,” said Derek, national honorary chairwoman
for the Department of Veterans Affairs National Rehabilitation
Special Events and a five-time participant in the winter sports
The actress, best known from the movie “10,” chatted
and posed for photos with the veterans during a “Taste of
Snowmass” event in which local chefs dished up their culinary
specialties for clinic participants. The event was part of the
opening activities for a six-day program that encourages veterans
to push their limits and discover their capabilities through a
variety of winter sports.
“I feel like the lucky American who gets to say, ‘Thank
you,” to the veterans for their service, Derek told the American
Forces Press Service at the event. “Everybody wants to say, ‘Thank
you,’ but not everyone gets the opportunity.”
Among veterans Derek chatted with at the event was Jaime Garcia,
a former Navy petty officer who suffered a spinal injury in 1999
and is attending his first winter sports clinic.
Grinning ear to ear after chatting with Derek,
Garcia declared his intentions for the days ahead. “I want to take away memories,
to meet new people, and to just have fun,” he said.
This year’s event features a star-studded
cast. Grammy award-winning singers Vince Gill and Amy Grant will
give a private concert, and
up-and-coming country singer Ty Nelson performed a patriotic tribute
during the opening ceremonies April 3.
Also during the opening ceremony, Rudy Ruettinger,
of Notre Dame football fame and the inspiration for the movie “Rudy,” urged
the veterans to look beyond their disabilities and “go for
Ruettinger, an inspirational speaker, told the
veterans of the power of passion and urged them to apply it to
their lives. “When
you have passion, your attitude changes,” he said. “You
see life differently.”
He praised the winter sports clinic participants
for their courage and determination in overcoming their disabilities. “You
are an inspiration by who you are,” he said.