Disabled athletes get local boost, global stage
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – An upcoming camp at Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort should ease the transition between active duty and downhill activity.
South Shore nonprofit Adaptive Action Sports will host the “Veterans in Action Snowboard Camp” Feb. 24 to 26.
The nonprofit group has run similar camps for disabled youths before, but the February camp will be the first to focus on improving the snowboarding of injured military personnel, said South Lake Tahoe resident and Executive Director Daniel Gale.
The timing may never have been better.
More than 9,000 U.S. military personnel have been wounded in Afghanistan since October 2001, and more than 30,000 have been wounded in Iraq since March 2003, according to the website http://www.icasualties.org.
Rapid emergency aid and better protective gear during the wars have helped to save lives, but scores of veterans are still coming back with permanent disabilities, Gale said.
And many military personnel have the desire to return to the active lifestyles they had before their injuries, increasing the need for programs for disabled athletes, Gale said.
“The demand is big,” Gale said. “I think we should probably expect to see a lot more demand.”
February’s camp will have a focus on parasnowboarding, which mirrors boardercross events where snowboarders race side-by-side down a hill featuring banked turns and numerous jumps.
Six athletes, ages 19 to 25, are signed up for the camp so far. All are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with permanent disabilities.
The dates of the camp correspond with the United Sates of America Snowboard Association regional competition, which includes an adaptive division.
While a similar camp open to veterans and disabled youths is planned for March, the February camp will be geared toward encouraging athletes to make the leap from recreation to competition, Gale said.
“The majority have been on a snowboard before, either before or after their injury,” Gale said. “I’d say most are intermediate and are excited to get on a snowboard and start competing.”
The excitement around adaptive sports may be growing beyond the athletes.
For the fourth year, Adaptive Action Sports will coordinate adaptive events at the X Games, where parasnowboarding will be featured for the first time this year. The X Games begin Jan. 27 in Aspen, Colo.
Gale hopes parasnowboarding will follow the path of mono-skiing, which started as a exhibition before becoming a medal competition four years ago.
Gale is also optimistic about parasnowboarding’s inclusion in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, following World Cup/World Championships in Colorado during the past two years which showcased a high level of international competition.
The International Paralympic Committee is expected to vote on possibly including the discipline in the 2014 games late this summer, Gale said.
Coordinating camps of varying skill levels with USASA events, like the Veterans in Action camp, will provide a “replicable prototype” for organizations throughout the country, with the ultimate goal of encouraging greater participation and competition in adaptive sports, Gale said.
He is confident athletes like those who will attend February’s camp will one day have the opportunity to shine on a Paralympic stage.
“This is our year to showcase what we’re capable of,” Gale said.