‘Let recreation be your re-creation’: Wounded veterans learn to ski and snowboard at Achieve Tahoe event
Todd Bamford was caught in a 2010 explosion that took the lives of three of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan.
“I spent about three years in the hospital and the doctors weren’t sure if I was ever going to walk,” Bamford said. “I’ve had 17 surgeries and full facial reconstruction.
“My life completely changed and I never thought that I would be a part of something again, you know?”
Bamford, though, did become part of something as he found himself among his fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms — who were also wounded during their military service — at Achieve Tahoe’s 11th annual Anthem Winter Ski Fest, where they spent four days learning how to ski and snowboard at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.
The program offered by Disabled Sports USA and sponsored by Anthem Blue Cross, provides a group of wounded veterans with adaptive ski and snowboard equipment and personalized lessons, overnight accommodations in the Village at Squaw Valley, meals and transportation, according to a news release.
“I heard about Achieve Tahoe through one of the veterans organizations,” said Bamford, a 49-year-old Sonoma veteran who spent 22 years in the Army. “They told me that they have all the adaptive equipment that will take you from whatever level you’re at and help you achieve new goals.”
BUILDING CONFIDENCE, RELATIONSHIPS
Bamford has a wife and a 17-year-old son and said this program has helped him create new bonds with his family.
“There was something that was said here that I really liked, ‘Let recreation be your re-creation,’” he said. “That really resonated with me, because I am re-creating myself and I’ve been able to accomplish things that I didn’t think I could. I can bond with my family snowboarding now and build that relationship further because of Achieve Tahoe.”
This was the fourth time Bamford has been out on the mountain without an outrigger or a prosthetic device.
“We’re doing blue diamond runs and not falling down,” he said. “The instructing here has really built up my confidence. Like I never thought I would be able to go snowboarding or get up on a surf board, but I did it.”
Brian Willson, Bamford’s instructor with Achieve Tahoe who is also active Coast Guard, said he is equally impressed with the progress Bamford has made.
“From where we started to now, he’s definitely more independent and I think he’s more comfortable going out by himself,” Willson said. “He’s put in a lot of work and his progress shows that.”
Willson has been with Achieve Tahoe for the past two years.
“I started with Achieve Tahoe because of the veteran outreach,” he said. “The military camp here is phenomenal. The way we give independence back to our brothers and sisters that have given a lot for this country is really important to me and I’m fortunate to be a part of it.”
Achieve Tahoe Executive Director Haakon Lang-Ree has also takes pride in the event and the work being done.
“A lot of what we are trying to do here is inclusion,” he said. “This is a wonderful outdoor recreational area and we think this population (people with disabilities) is very underserved.”
Veterans travel from all over the country to participate in private ski and snowboard instruction that’s specifically designed to support their physical therapy, boost their emotional well-being, build their confidence and ultimately help their re-integration into their communities, stated in a release. The attendees are also invited to bring a guest to share in their experience, and to provide them with support and encouragement.
“These are activities that they should be doing with others,” Lang-Ree said.
The other aspect of this event Lang-Ree touched on was how helpful the bonds created between the participants.
“We hear from the veterans that this is something they’ve missed,” Lang-Ree said. “That now they’re out of the service they have missed the camaraderie and this gives it back to them.”
Willson, as a fellow serviceman, also believes this event is beneficial in supporting mental health.
“I don’t think people realize the camaraderie that our soldiers and sailors lose when they come back,” Willson said. “Coming together as a family and just being outside together is a glimpse of getting that back. I feel like we don’t do enough on the metal health aspect for our vets, but this is a small way I can help and part of the flip side of why I do this.”
In addition to this event, Achieve Tahoe has a summer program for wounded vets, as well as many other year-round programs for children and adults with disabilities. For more information on Achieve Tahoe, visit http://www.achievetahoe.org.
Sean Jordan is a staff writer for the Sierra Sun. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.