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Adaptive Adventures Military Operations Is Helping Veterans Find Comfort Through Sports

By Stuart Lieberman | April 12, 2023, 11:39 a.m. (ET)

Photo courtesy of Adaptive Adventures Military Operations.

Marquette Mountain Resort in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan opened its slopes to veterans and people with a disability for free ski and snowboard lessons March 9-10.


Funded through Adaptive Adventures Military Operations, a national non-profit headquartered in Westminster, Colorado, 16 participants were invited to the camp with the aim of getting more veterans and their families involved in Para sports.


“In a lot of places that are more rural, veterans don’t tend to be aware of the services that are available,” said Dan Loch, the national alpine manager for Adaptive Adventures, the parent organization of AAMO. “Our goal with this particular first camp was to get the word out there and serve as many of the veterans as we could locally and get the word out that it exists.”


Once that awareness reaches those veterans, many of them enjoy the experience of hitting the slopes. Loch said one veteran at the camp had been dealing with chronic pain, PTSD and depression and had avoided skiing because she feared she would hurt herself.


“We set her up with a piece of equipment that she didn’t even know existed, and her husband as well, and they were able to both enjoy their time together for the entire day,” Loch said. “She was incredibly grateful and had tears of joy. She was massively impacted.”


Since 1999, Adaptive Adventures has focused on bringing Para sports to underserved areas and in places with veteran populations. It currently holds free programs across 34 states in the U.S., as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. The programs for veterans are funded by military grants from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, with its other programs supported by private donors, corporate sponsors and partnerships.


Adaptive Adventures offers a range of sports opportunities beyond the slopes, too, including cycling, dragon boat racing, kayaking, paddleboarding, rocking climbing, water skiing, wakeboarding and whitewater rafting.


This marked the first year Marquette Mountain Resort hosted a camp, which the Adaptive Adventures Military Operations branch organized in cooperation with Veterans Affairs medical centers. Participants were given lessons by skilled instructors and provided lift tickets and adaptive equipment rental at no cost. Kelly Allen, a former skier and Rio 2016 Paralympian in canoe, volunteered her time at the camp, helping one of the participants learn how to use a three-track ski.


In addition to Allen, a number of U.S. Paralympians have volunteered their time or donated equipment to Adaptive Adventures over the years to support their camps. This includes 17-time Paralympic medalist Oksana Masters, who presented two participants in the Chicago area with a new seated bi-ski and a new recumbent handcycle last year on behalf of Move United and the Hartford.


The Marquette camp was an immediate hit, as organizers worked closely with each participant — including a 13-year-old amputee who was the daughter of a veteran — to learn where they were at physically and set realistic goals for them for their runs down the slopes.


“They loved it, and that’s part of why I do this job,” Loch said. “It doesn’t even feel like a job to me. The tears of joy and smiles and laughter can be massively impactful for individuals, especially people who have PTSD or trauma or depression. It can be life-changing for some and a motivation and metaphor for life, getting over whatever barriers exist in the way of what they’re trying to pursue. We push them out of their comfort zone and offer these opportunities.”


Loch said he is already planning another camp at the same venue with additional days and participants.


Stuart Lieberman

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to USParaAlpineSkiing.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.