U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. --
First Lt. Ed Salau was a member of the North Carolina Army National Guard on patrol in Iraq in 2004 when a rocket propelled grenade penetrated the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was riding in. Lieutenant Salau, the platoon leader, lost his left leg and his gunner lost his right leg in the attack by insurgents.
"We were able to kill or capture the guys who ambushed us and we both survived," he recalled matter-of-factly. "We were the only injuries on our side, so it was a good day. We won the fight. They decided to go toe-to-toe and they lost."
The following winter Lieutenant Salau learned to ski with the help of Adaptive Adventures, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities and their families through outdoor sports and recreation.
Adaptive Adventures is collaborating with the Wounded Warrior Project and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center to bring severely wounded active duty servicemembers to SnoFest. The annual military snow sports weekend, SnoFest, will be held Jan. 25 to 27 at Keystone Resort.
"We see SnoFest as a great opportunity to do what we do, which is take guys who have been recently hurt out of military hospitals, bring them to an event to teach them to ski, get them back into their lives and at the same time do that in front of all these people who are their peers," said Joel Berman, co-founder of Adaptive Adventures.
Adaptive Adventures is enabling 20 wounded warriors, each of whom were injured recently while fighting the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq or Afghanistan, to attend SnoFest and will teach them to ski within the limitations of their disabilities. Transportation, lodging and other costs to attend SnoFest will be $1,000 to $1,500 for each of them. These costs will be paid for by Adaptive Adventures through sponsorships and donations.
"What I'm looking forward to at SnoFest is to get back out there with a mountain full of warriors and ski," Lieutenant Salau said. "I'll be with a bunch of people - comrades, brothers and sisters - however you want to look at it, and we'll all be able to do something we love together. Last February, four other wounded warriors and myself got certified as (Professional Ski Instructors of America) Level 1 Adaptive Ski Instructors. The best thing about our certification is that not only can we teach able-bodied people to ski, but in addition to that, we can teach people like us how to ski."
Adaptive Adventures provides much more than a sports program for people with disabilities.
"It's not about skiing, cycling or paddling," Mr. Berman said. "It's about telling them what they are capable of doing, that they're still the same person. Through sports, if these people can regain that self-confidence, that self-image, that independence, that persona being strengthened again is going to directly benefit their family in many ways."
The father of two teens, Lieutenant Salau wondered what effects his injury would have on his life. Would he play soccer with his son again? Would he ever dance with his daughter?
"Very honestly, Adaptive Adventures and snow skiing showed me two very important things: that I can go fast again and do something very dangerous safely, and I can also do it with my kids," he said. "So since then, my kids and I have been skiing together a few times. They love it and love doing it with me and I love doing it with them. It showed me that life doesn't stop. We've also been able to do other things together. I ran a 5K race with my son last year."
Back in 1999, Mr. Berman and Matt Feeney saw the need for an organization that could utilize their extensive business skills and experience to make a significant contribution in the adaptive sports community.
"Being two people who were living with a disability, we saw things we would like to change, things that weren't happening within the disabled community, and more specifically, within the adaptive sports community," said Mr. Berman, whose left leg was amputated above the knee. "We felt like there was a lack of overall communication and outreach, basically a lack of awareness of what was going on and just too many things that weren't going on for people like us, and we created Adaptive Adventures."
According to Mr. Berman, the majority of adaptive sports organizations do not have people with disabilities in senior management.
"That was another reason we started this. We felt like some of the roadblocks we came up against when talking to these organizations was from a lack of understanding, a lack of being able to put themselves in our shoes."
While Lieutenant Salau doesn't give Adaptive Adventures all the credit for an improved outlook, he is quick to acknowledge its positive impact.
"I am so extremely grateful that Adaptive Adventures was there and did what they did for me," Lieutenant Salau said. "It's important to note that Adaptive Adventures can't do what they do unless very generous people contribute and donate money and time. Supporting your troops is more than putting a yellow-ribbon magnet on the back of your truck."
(What: 18th annual military snow sports weekend
Where: Keystone Resort located 90 minutes west of Denver International Airport
When: Jan. 25-27, 2008
Lift tickets: Available at base Information, Ticket and Tours offices. An adult SnoFest lift ticket are $43. Tickets for E1-E4, cadets and Prep School students are $39. Lift tickets for children ages 12 and younger are $29. Kids under 5 ski free.
Parties: The parties Friday and Saturday night in the Keystone Conference Center include an outstanding buffet. Friday's party includes a performance by Tops in Blue. Saturday's party is a tribute to Hollywood themed "Reel Fun." Come dressed casually, glitzy or stroll down the red carpet as your favorite movie character. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 5-12, ages 4 and under are free if they do not occupy a seat. An entire table can be reserved at one of the parties by purchasing a block of 10 tickets at once and signing up at that time. All other seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Lodging: To reserve your lodging at Keystone, call (800) 258-0437, and mention your base affiliation and group code GV7SNFE.
For complete SnoFest information, go to http://www.21svs.com/index.php?page=outdoor&view=snofest. )