Disabled veterans arrive in Aspen for annual sports clinic

Mar 30, 2015

Members of the Aspen Elks Lodge greet disabled veterans from around the country. Hundreds of vets arrived at the Aspen airport over the weekend for the National Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic.
Credit Marci Krivonen

Hundreds of disabled veterans are in Snowmass Village this week for the National Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic. The vets arrived in droves over the weekend at the Aspen airport. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Crystal Hughes stands on the tarmac at the Aspen airport. She’s wearing military fatigues.

"We have a team of four active duty people from Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona," she says. "And we just come out here to volunteer and give back to the veterans. Reporter: How many vets are coming in on this flight? Crystal: This flight, we have about four."

It’s a light flight. In total, more than 300 veterans are arriving here.

Inside the terminal, disabled vet Dave Riley gets his bags. He’s a quad-amputee, below the knees and the elbows. He says the Sports Clinic improved his life.

"(It involves) people working with you intensely. Being able to talk about stuff helped bring me out of the funk I was in, and turned me around."

The Clinic is a joint effort between the group Disabled American Veterans and Veterans Affairs. It’s a rehabilitation program for veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, amputations, blindness and other impairments. It uses activities like adaptive skiing to improve veterans’ physical and mental health. 

"I go up in the sit-down ski and have just as much adrenaline as when I used to ski normally," says Riley. "That was what really helped me out, was getting the adrenaline back and being out there again."

Near the baggage claim, Jamie Driscoll with the Aspen Elks Lodge is handing out snacks and welcoming the veterans. 

"It’s definitely rewarding for us and its nice to see the smiles on the faces of these veterans."

The organization puts 500 volunteers on the ground during the week the veterans are here, providing food and support. Driscoll says the veterans are his family.

"I’ve been out here for the last ten years. I’m a disabled American veterans myself but I’m able-bodied, and this is how I give back to these guys and girls who have fought for my country. It’s an overwhelming experience. I’ll do this until I can’t do it anymore."

His feelings are echoed by Crystal Hughes of Luke Air Force Base. She’s back on the tarmac awaiting the arrival of more veterans.

"I mean, I’m not out there helping them ski or sled, but this is my way of thanking them for their service. I wouldn’t be wearing this uniform if it wasn’t for them," she says.

The Clinic started Sunday. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald is expected to attend the event on Thursday.