True heroes reach the summit as Wounded Warriors gatherBy Michael Ryan
WINDHAM - There are very simple reasons hundreds of people are passionately involved with the Adaptive Sports Foundation's 9th annual Wounded Warrior Project at Windham Mountain.
Soldiers and Marines injured in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and other compatriots are again visiting the local ski slope, this weekend, for rehabilitative skiing and snowboarding.
The 31 veterans and their families are also guests of honor around the town Friday and Saturday night for dinners and social events paying tribute to their sacrifices, all carried out by volunteers.
Several dignitaries, including Congressman Chris Gibson and New York State Comptroller's Office Inspector General Steve Hamilton were on hand, sharing their thoughts and feelings.
"I am overwhelmed, standing here right now in front of all these true heroes who have demonstrated extraordinary resilience and courage," Gibson said.
"You represent all that is good in this country," Gibson said, presenting an American flag that had flown over the nation's capitol to the Adaptive Sports Foundation.
"I am honored to be here today," Hamilton said. "We are happy to do whatever we can but there is nothing the state of New York can do to compare to what you have given."
Many veterans have lost limbs or been fully or partially paralyzed as a result of their wounds, a reality that does not stop them from stepping onto the slippery sticks.
"We are especially pleased this year to see our second group of novices who have become instructors," Adaptive Sports Foundation executive director Cherrisse Young said.
"It is great to watch them go from taking lessons to giving instruction, coming here on their own dime to train. We are very proud of them and are thrilled to have them back," Young said.
Assemblyman Peter Lopez, a regular attendee, was unable to travel to Windham on this occasion, instead sending a letter that stated in part, "you are the heroes of our nation.
"You have shown us that patriotism, honor and valor are not just ideals to read about, or for our children to learn about in school but real qualities of the American soldier," Lopez wrote.
"You answered the call to arms, in defense of our beloved homes and the values of freedom that we believe in. It is my privilege to offer you, on behalf of all the people in the communities I represent, our very deepest and heartfelt thanks for all you have done," Lopez wrote.
One individual who stays mostly behind the scenes but is integral to the program has deeply personal reasons for devoting so much time to the wounded soldiers and Marines.
"There is something unbelievably unique about each one of them, about what makes them do what they do," Wounded Warrior Project adaptive sports coordinator Shauna Smith said.
"I love who they are, beyond what they have done for each of us. My wish, my gift is to give something back them but in the long run, they are they ones who inspire me," Smith said.
"The rehabilitative benefits of coming to Windham Mountain are immeasurable because the transition these men and women must go through is mental after a while," Smith said.
"Physically, we have seen that we can adapt to almost anything, The mental part of healing though, can be challenging. This shows them and their families they are not alone," Smith said.
"I love who they are, beyond what they have done for us. My wish is to give something back to them but in the long run, it is important they know they are the ones who inspire us," Smith said.