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At Snowmass, the Battle Is for Recovery

Friday the 13th won’t occur again until October of this year, but for Ryan Garza, that was the day in 2015 he chose to get his leg amputated.

Lance Corporal Garza served in the U.S. Marine Corps and did four tours in Helmand Province, Afghanistan—and it was on that fourth tour that he suffered a life-changing wound. In 2011, Garza’s truck drove over an improvised explosive device (IED), severely injuring his right leg. Doctors tried for several years—not months, years—to save Ryan’s leg. Fast forward to today, and Ryan, who lives and receives his care in Colorado Springs, is about to participate as a snowboarder in his second National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Snowmass.

For veterans facing traumatic brain injuries, vision loss, and amputations, recovery can be challenging; traditional and recreational therapy-based models can help them heal. The Winter Sports Clinic, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Disabled American Veterans (DAV), earned the nickname “Miracles on a Mountainside” for its ability to get disabled veterans back into alpine and nordic skiing by using adaptive technology and recreational therapy.

In 1987, Sandy Trombetta, a recreational therapist at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center, essentially founded the clinic by taking 90 veterans to Crested Butte to experience the healing that comes with winter recreational and adaptive sports. 2023 marks the 37th year of the clinic and more than 330 disabled veterans will descend upon Snowmass to continue their journey to improve their overall wellbeing, rehabilitation, self-esteem, and readjustment.

“I was the first amputee to deploy to the war in Iraq,” said U.S. Army (retired) Command Sergeant Major Bud McLeroy of San Diego, CA. “While serving overseas in 2003, I suffered injuries to my spinal cord while rescuing wounded civilians, leaving me paralyzed. After nearly two years in the hospital, it was a long road to recovery. So, when I come to places like Snowmass and participate in this Clinic, I look at it like these people are saving lives. They are my heroes because they support me,” he added. In 2022, McLeroy earned the DAV Freedom Award, given every year to a veteran selected as the premier representative of the courage, perseverance, and determination that the event represents.

In addition to the participants, an additional 550 volunteers (ski instructors, physical therapists, etc.) descend upon Colorado from across the country. World-class instructors help veterans achieve their maximum potential based on their unique capabilities. Along the way, the Clinic has introduced dozens of veterans to future glory as Paralympic athletes.

Colorado Ski Country USA uses the tagline “A Mountain for Everyone.” And that’s certainly a welcoming motto for our disabled veterans participating in the Winter Sports Clinic.