Operation Rebound brings vets together; returns to Sierra-at-Tahoe Saturday
The Lake Tahoe Operation Rebound reunion will host veterans, military personnel and first responders this weekend for fun, fellowship and snow at Sierra-at-Tahoe.
Operation Rebound is a subgroup of Challenged Athletes Foundation, which uses sports and fitness opportunities to help reintegrate and empower adaptive athletes who have received permanent physical injuries.
“We are excited to be the beneficiary of this annual event,” said Marine veteran and CAF Operation Rebound senior program manager Nico Marcolongo. “We greatly appreciate Sierra-Tahoe’s commitment to supporting our injured veterans and first responders.”
According to event coordinators, the March 11-12 event is an opportunity for participants to enjoy the outdoor activities Lake Tahoe offers and also reconnect with one another. It’s made possible by support from sponsors, including: Kirkwood cross-country, which will provide free trail passes; Sierra-at-Tahoe, which is providing free lift tickets; Strawberry Lodge will offer a discount of 25-percent on rooms; and Tahoe Adventure Sports will offer a 20-percent discount on rentals.
Participants will need to present their DD 214, military ID or a Veterans Administration ID to validate eligibility. The event also will feature the “Nordic Challenge,” a free-heel ski race at Sierra-at-Tahoe that spans a 5-mile course. There is a $50 entrance fee that participants can use as a tax write-off. Anyone can participate in the race and there will be prizes for the top four finishers.
Call of the mountains
Operation Rebound didn’t always have a Lake Tahoe connection. Retired El Dorado High School special education teacher and veteran Jim Cahill played a key role in getting the Lake Tahoe reunion organized.
Cahill had been working with Sierra-at-Tahoe not long after retirement, doing search and rescue, but he became interested in organizations that assist veterans not long after his son, Jay, joined the Army, went through medical training and later deployed to Iraq.
“While he was there, I tried to figure out a way to support him and support the people he attended to when they came home,” said Cahill. “The place to heal people is here, the mountains. It’s pretty simple.”
Before everything came together to get people to the mountains, Cahill spent time volunteering and raising money for other veteran’s organizations. After being introduced to Operation Rebound about eight years ago, he started making trips to the organization’s home-base in San Diego to work with many of the adaptive athletic events it holds. However, he noticed there was something missing.
“The one thing they [Operation Rebound] were missing was winter sports,” he said. “What I’ve been working on is to connect Lake Tahoe veterans.”
According to Cahill, El Dorado County has a higher per capita concentration of veterans than any other county in California. After connecting all the dots between his interest in winter sports and helping veterans, Cahill and Marcolongo teamed up to host the first Lake Tahoe Operation Rebound reunion. Six years later, they are still going strong and brining veterans together.
As a part of Operation Rebound’s efforts, it also sponsors adaptive athletes who are training for Paralympic games. Local CAF Operation Rebound athlete and retired Navy Petty Officer Jon Engles is one of those athletes. Due to an injury Engles incurred, he has multiple prosthetics, but has become a skilled snowboarder. He has participated in several Operation Rebound events and was one of the top finishers at the 2016 Nordic Challenge. He has more recently been training in hopes of earning a spot at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in South Korea.
“As far as I know, I’m the only snowboarder in the world that snowboards without a hip joint at all,” said Engles. “I have a prosthetic hip, knee and ankle.” Engles had been snowboarding with his prosthetics beforehand, but moved to the South Shore in 2014 to begin a more intensive training regimen.
“I grew up in a small town in eastern Oregon and I love the climate here,” said Engles. “ I love all of the outdoorsy, camping, being one with nature kinds of things.” Although Engles is waiting for medical clearance due to a recent concussion, he is still a Paralympic hopeful.
“I’m grateful for Operation Rebound because they’ve made a lot of my training possible,” he said. “Because it would be financially burdensome to try to pay for that on my own.”