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Empowering Vets Through Summer Adaptive Sports


Wound Warrior, Ryan Major participates in the ASF's Warriors in Motion cycling program. (ASF)

After Kirk Bauer lost his leg from a grenade explosion in Vietnam in 1969, he experienced the thrill of skiing as part of his rehabilitation through Disabled Sports USA. “There was a demand from vets to get involved in sports so DSUSA began as a ski organization in 1967,” Bauer said.

Fast forward to 2017. Bauer, who became DSUSA Executive Director in 1982, has led the organization to become one of the largest adaptive programs in the nation — over 120 chapters serving some 60,000 people in 50 sports annually.

“The revolution in the types of adaptive equipment and major gains in teaching mean a wide range of disabilities are now served with year-round sports participation possible, including summer sports from archery to tennis to water skiing,” Bauer noted. 

 free adaptive XC mountain biking at Killington

Summer programs
Independent non-profit winter adaptive programs that are based at ski resorts can be found countrywide and their summer adaptive programs are growing with new offerings annually.

The all-season Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports program offers many summer activities for children and adults and is adding free adaptive XC mountain biking at Killington and a women’s veteran program July 22. Statewide summer programs have been expanded, as have their free veterans programs.

NEHSA instructor provides instructions for Wounded Warriors kayaking off Long Island, New York. (NEHSA)

Founded in 1972 to serve disabled Vietnam vets, the New England Healing Sports Association has grown from a weekend Alpine program based at New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee to serving people with a wide variety of disabilities and children of all ages year-round.

Executive Director Tom Kersey told SnoCountry.com, “We have really ramped up our water sports programs. This year we have about 50 water sports event dates on Lake Sunapee, our summer home where three days a week we serve local children and adult group home residents.” The expanded program features road trips to “support underserved disabled veterans in their own communities, teaching them a safe lifelong activity that will be able to enjoy with their friends and families,” Kersey noted. Locations include: Newport, Rhode Island; Boston; Bedford, Massachusetts; and Wilder, Vermont.

Thanks to the expansion of adaptive programs, tennis can be played by those in wheelchairs. (DSUSA)

Since 1984 the Adaptive Sports Foundation, which operates out of Adaptive Sports Center at Windham Mountain, New York, has provided winter experiences for children and adults. With veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, ASF expanded offerings to include three-day events in summer, teaching golf, recreational and competitive canoeing and kayaking, cycling, hiking, and personal fitness and is now a regional site for a year-round Warriors in Motion program. A new August Family Camp overnight is being offered for teens with cognitive disabilities.

Military veterans participate in NSCD’s competitive air gun program. NSCD photo.

The National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) began providing ski lessons for children amputees in 1970. Based out of Winter Park and Sports Authority Field in Denver, NSCD has grown to offer year-round programs to children, adults, and vets. Summer offerings include: sports ability clinics, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, camps, horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing and rock climbing. 

Through the gift of their time, volunteers empower clients with an “I can do it attitude.” (NEHSA)

Volunteers welcomed, appreciated
With a mission to help clients with physical, cognitive or emotional challenges gain a sense of independence, a positive attitude, access to social opportunities, and personal growth — and especially healing and wellness for our vets — adaptive programs provide a great way for volunteers to facilitate a sense of “empowerment” through the gift of their time. “To help someone gain a sense of achievement is to empower them. The ‘I can do it’ attitude is a very precious gift,” those interviewed agree.

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