The annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is back in action this week with a full slate of adaptive sports like alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, sled hockey and curling in Snowmass Village and beyond. An opening ceremony kicked the event off Sunday evening in Base Village; the clinic wraps up Friday.
For John Kleindienst, the voluntary services director for the Disabled American Veterans organization, it’s all about opportunity — to engage with fellow veterans as much as to try something new.
“We want to inspire veterans to get out and do something different or unique that they may not normally have the opportunity to do,” said Kleindienst, who helps organize the event along with other folks from Disabled American Veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Both organizations work together to produce the clinic.
Participants hail “from all over the country,” Kleindeinst said. Some come with more winter sports experience than others, given that some veterans come from the East Coast Sunshine State, and “and participating in winter sports in Florida is something that you can’t do,” he noted.
Among the cohort are a “significant” number of first-time participants as well as what Kleindienst jokingly refers to as “repeat offenders if you will — not in a bad way,” he said.
The clinic is a place where veterans can find connections and reconnections while participating in adaptive outdoor recreation. The clinic’s mission is “to involve disabled Veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, neurological disorders, visual impairments and other profound injuries and medical concerns in challenging therapeutic outdoor experiences and education,” according to the event website.
“This is just an opportunity for them to come back, establish the relationships that they have with fellow veterans, get the opportunity to overcome any obstacles or injuries and enjoy camaraderie and friendship while we’re here,” Kleindienst said.
It’s an occasion that hasn’t existed for nearly three years. The last clinic took place in the spring of 2019; the 2020 iteration was scheduled for late March but the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on that clinic as well as one in 2021.
The return this year is pared down from seasons past in an effort to follow COVID protocols established by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Kleindienst said. Usually about 400 veterans participate; there will be around 140 in town this week, he said, and programming has adapted to reduce touch points and keep participants in the same groups throughout the week.
After the hiatus, it feels “great” to be back, Kleindienst said.
“Two years of not doing this probably had a very significant impact on their mental health as well as their physical well being, so we’re excited to do this with the Department of Veterans Affairs and ensure that veterans get this opportunity,” Kleindienst said.
It’s likewise a chance to foster a connection between the local community and participants in the clinic that returns year after year.
“We just hope everybody in the community will take an opportunity to thank the veterans for their service and enjoy what we’re trying to do as the DAV and the Department of Veterans Affairs put these events on,” he said.