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Learning to Ski Helps Some Amputees Overcome Limitations

According to the U.S. Department of Defense over 11,000 U.S. soldiers have been wounded in action in Iraq. Some have been so severely injured that they face years of rehabilitation. Others must cope with life-long physical conditions such as the loss of an arm or leg.

Neither a severely injured leg, nor the fear of falling, will prevent Rosetta Floyd from learning to ski. She says it was scary at first, but it didn’t hurt her.

In August of 2004, Specialist Rosetta Floyd was injured in a mortar attack in Baghdad while serving as a U.S. Army medic. She recounts the experience, "So I heard somebody say, 'Grab her foot. It looks like its about to fall off' and I'm freaking out. I blacked out while I'm hearing this."

Rosetta Floyd sustained numerous injuries including a large wound to the leg. But before she learns to walk again with a cane, she is learning to ski.

U.S. Army Sergeant Luis Rodriguez lost his leg in March of 2004 when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb in the Iraqi city of Mosul. He says of the incident, "And I remember asking, 'How is my leg?' because no one wanted to say anything. And there was silence. And then I asked again, 'How is my leg?' And I'm very blunt and I kind of cursed out, 'How is my freaking leg!' and my first sergeant says, 'Hey Rod, your leg is not there.'

For Sergeant Rodriguez learning to ski is, in a way, learning to live again. He says, "You just have to keep going. Otherwise you are going to be in your house, locked up in your house and you'd be missing life. And for some of us that have been going through all this stuff in combat, man this is a second chance to live."

Luis Rodriguez and Rosetta Floyd are two of more than 300 disabled veterans participating in a yearly ski trip to Aspen Colorado in the Western region of the United States.

Recreation therapist Sandy Trombetta is founder of the Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. Mr. Trombetta describes what they offer: "We use a thing that's called Guided Discovery. And what that means is that we take people to a place and we expose them to different challenges you might say, and then they begin to discover different things about themselves. They get to see what they can do not what they can't do."

The clinic offers a variety of physically challenging activities from scuba diving to rock climbing. The purpose is directed as much at building a positive attitude as it is at overcoming physical barriers. Participating in these clinics can help disabled vets fight depression and lead productive lives, but currently only a relatively small number attend.

Many, such as Henry Diaz, a Vietnam War Veteran who was injured 13 years ago and is here for the first time, can struggle alone for years. Emotional, Henry recounts, "Before, I never had that much patience and they brought me out here and I started coming out of my shell so to speak but after 30 years. If it weren’t one person, one of my therapists, if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here. I was chickening out at the last minute. That's about it. I'm so glad to be here, that's all."

What is special about these clinics says Sandy Trombetta, is the bond developed between disabled vets as well as the real-life coping skills learned on the ski slopes.

Mr. Trombetta says, "Life is about struggle and it's about how we deal with the knocks that we take. And skiing is a true metaphor for life. Once they get here, and they fall, and get back up, and they get some of those sweet turns in, and they get sun tanned because it is beautiful out here. They take those skills and they take that confidence that they learned here and they bring it home and they realize that, you know, I did this. I did something that really was out of my realm of possibilities and now I realize I can really, you know, my reach can exceed my grasp."

For in skiing, as in life, it is not the falling but the determination to get back up that is important.