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Adaptive sports clinic helps veterans find their spirit after combat

24% of veterans who served in combat are disabled.
Posted at 9:46 AM, Apr 07, 2022

ASPEN, Colo. — When you think of Aspen, you probably think of ritz and glitz. But once a year, the VA goes there to show wounded vets the latest and greatest in adaptive sports technology.

“We have TBI, we have visually impaired, we have quadriplegic, paraplegics, every disability you could probably imagine,” said Michele Furlough, a VA recreational therapist.

Welcome to the Adaptive Sports Clinic. For some that work at the VA, this one-day event is the highlight of their year.

“It’s a place where you become very appreciative of what you have, and you don’t take things [for] granted like a lot of people do,” said Teresa Parks, the director of the VA Winter Sports Clinic.

Others are visiting for the first time.

“I’m Ryan Garza, born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. United States Marine Corps did four tours in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. That fourth tour, that’s when I got hit.”

Garza's truck drove over an IED.

“I was a passenger in a seven-ton truck, and we ran over an IED, and it blew up directly underneath me,” he said, “I was knocked out very briefly, and then I was just taking all the sand out of my eyes, and my mouth and my nose because it was just covered."

Doctors tried for months to save his leg. Eventually, he was the one to make the choice.

“Turned into a bad alcoholic just trying to save my leg, and then it got to the point where I just said, I got to get it amputated. They let me pick the day, so I got it amputated on Friday the 13th,” said Garza.

A sense of humor might be the best medicine.

Here at the clinic, Garza is learning how he can do things he used to be able to do with two legs.

“I just never thought, I never thought I’d be able to snowboard,” he said, “You feel the wind and you hear the ice, oh man, it gets me excited. It’s an awesome feeling.”

There are less than 100 wounded vets at this clinic, a small fraction of the 2.2 million currently living in the U.S.

This group wants their fellow wounded vets to know about the opportunities that are out there.

“You hear that from the veterans too. I got injured, but it was just my job,” said Chris Werahane, the mountain safety manager for the clinic.

“Yes, I realize that we’ve changed this person’s life, we’ve changed this families life and yes you feel good about it, but where’s the next person I can change,” said Werhane.

It’s hard to imagine, but this group of vets includes some of the most optimistic people you’ve ever met.

“You know, losing my leg was saved my life, believe it or not. That’s the best thing that ever happened to me," he said.

You just can’t find optimism like that.