The first week of June has been a special time for me for the last nine years. In addition to being the official start of the summer season at Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES), it is also a time when we host a summer camp out for wounded, ill, and injured service members. Our annual Operation High Altitude camp brings in approximately 40 servicemen and women and their families for a week of healing and outdoor recreation in the beautiful Eastern Sierra. In this first of two posts about this amazing event, I want to share the personal connection that has led me to become a proud supporter of our troops.
I grew up with no first-hand knowledge of the military. Before working at DSES, I had very little experience working with people with disabilities. But regardless of anything else, we are all people. Early in my career at DSES, I met Terry, a Gulf War veteran suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. He was just starting on a new path in life that he attributed to discovering adaptive sports. Like many in his situation, he struggled with constant pain and relied heavily on medication to ease it. He lived under a dark cloud. The very short version of this story is that after learning to monoski with us, Terry began to get his life back on track and become an active and valued member of the community. He was even the Grand Marshall of the 4th of July parade! I saw this transformation happen. He became a very dear friend and helped me to develop the summer program that I manage today.
But perhaps most importantly, Terry came to his friends at DSES and said, “If this can help me so much, we need to reach out to other wounded servicemen!” And so we did! We started with a small group of 6 guys from Balboa Naval Medical Hospital, and now, nine years later, we are hosting an average of 40 servicemen and women twice a year (and then some!). We have served both active duty and veterans from conflicts such as World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars.
Unfortunately, Terry lost his final battle with cancer and passed away in 2009, but his legacy continues on in our continuing efforts to help change lives through the freedom and exhilaration of adaptive sports. The memory of Terry will serve forever as a reminder to me that one person can make a difference. Thanks to him, and all the men and women I have met at these camps, I understand a little better the sacrifices made by those who serve in our military.
At DSES, our way of thanking them for their service is to use sports as a vehicle to help them gain skills and confidence and to show them what they can do. There are countless ways to support our troops; I encourage you to find a way that is meaningful to you. Maybe there is a ‘Terry’ in your life, or maybe this tiny slice of his story that I have shared will make a connection with you. Is there someone that has changed your life or business the way Terry changed ours? What will be your legacy?