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Adaptive Sports Offer Vets 'Transformative' Experience

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Copyright 2017 The Salt Lake Tribune
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The Salt Lake Tribune

 

Monty Monserret hadn't skied for 30 years.

The Army veteran tried it when he was stationed in Germany in the 1980s, and enjoyed himself. But since then, a rare brain inflammation condition always kept the Salt Lake City resident off the slopes.

The condition, limbic encephalitis, means Monserret's eyesight has gradually deteriorated over the years -- not ideal for sliding down a mountainside at high speeds. It also ruined his truck driving career.

But with the help of a guide last week, Monserret, 54, finally skied again.

He was one of 13 severely disabled Utah veterans who attended the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo. The six-day rehabilitation event, organized by the Department of Veterans Affairs, brings 400 disabled veterans to Colorado each year to try out all types of adaptive sports, like curling, sled hockey and scuba diving.

From ABAdaptive Sports Programs Aiding Recovery for Military

"I spent a lot of time on my butt," Monserret of his return to skis, during a telephone interview with The Tribune.

And he loved it. He said he improved his technique by the second day, as the blind skier guide led him through each run.

Navy veteran Anna Kennedy's spine was severely injured in 1975, when her parachute malfunctioned during a training exercise. The Ogden resident has had nearly 30 surgeries over the years.

Then in 2011, her brain was traumatically injured following an incident with a horse. She's struggled with balance, memory, vision and speech.

None of that mattered in Colorado, Kennedy, 62, said. A highlight, she said, was the sport of sled hockey: "They strap you into a giant sled, with a ski on the bottom, and give you two sticks."

"It's hilarious, but it's exciting and challenging," she said of sled hockey. "It's everything my mind and body can handle at one time."

In one game, she was one of just three women on the ice -- and scored two goals, which won her team the game.

Jen Thomas, an occupational therapist at the George E. Wahlen V.A. Medical Center in Salt Lake City, who helps out at the clinic, said Kennedy mentioned during the week that she hadn't felt this "free and happy in over 10 years."

The camaraderie and varied activities at the clinic sometimes feels "transformative" to veterans like Kennedy, Thomas said. The event has also been a starting point for Paralympic athletes.

Kennedy said she believes in the clinic's impact on veterans' lives as a "one-time event." But she also hopes at least some veterans keep participating in certain sports when they return home.

Monserret wants to keep skiing back home in Utah. First, however, he'll need to track down a partner who can guide him.

"I'm already thinking about next year," Monserret said.

lramseth@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lramseth

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April 5, 2017
 
 
 

 

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