On these Colorado ski slopes, wounded veterans are not only learning a sport they once thought was out of reach, they’re also gaining confidence to rebuild their lives.
“The thing about skiing, once I'm up there on the mountain, I'm on equal footing with everybody else,” Col. Gregory Gadson told TODAY during his fourth trip to the Vail slopes since losing both legs in Bagdad in 2007.
Gadson is a graduate of the Vail Veterans Program, which has taught wounded warriors to ski for the past ten years.
Lt. Col. David Rozelle, a program co-founder, noted that amputees used to face bleak prognosis in the early years of the recent conflicts abroad.
“Now they're making it back,” said Rozelle, who refused to give up one of his favorite sports after he lost part of a leg in Baghdad in 2003. “They get in this program and they find their new normal here.”
Cheryl Jenson, the program's executive director, said she initially came on board thinking the program was strictly about ski and snowboard instruction.
“But what we realized, there's a lot more healing that takes place here, on and off the mountain,” she said.
Last May, Petty Officer Taylor Morris lost parts of all four limbs in Afghanistan. Today, he’s hitting the Colorado slopes.
“It’s a great feeling to go out and snowboard on your own,” he said.
His girlfriend, Danielle Kelly, said the program gives the couple inspiration about their future.
“This offers us an activity that we'll be able to do years down the road and hopefully one day with our kids,” she said. “We’ll be able to go out and ski.”
Retired Capt. Melissa Stockwell, who lost part of her leg when she was injured in Baghdad in 2004, is now a veteran of the program.
“I was pretty wobbly at first, you know, on this the bunny hill. By the end of the week, I was up and flying down,” she said. “And I never really felt so free in my entire life.”