Welcome, everyone, to the 24th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, where athletes—400 strong—have gathered to answer the question, “What’s possible?” And, “Can I do more than I think?”
Those are the critically important questions for our competitors—remarkable men and women who know, first hand, what it takes to adjust to life’s unexpected changes. And who know what it means to bear down, dig deeper, and push even harder at the limits of physical and emotional endurance. It’s not easy—it never is. But the victory is in the pushing.
I will always place the mission first;
I will never accept defeat;
I will never quit;
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
Whether on the field of battle, or this week’s fields of friendly strife, “I will never quit” becomes the call to action for the rest of your lives. This is why the rest of us are here, and why we’ve made this journey up this mountain for 24 years now. It is to give you the opportunity to keep long-made promises and to rekindle the sense of purpose in your lives. We are here because you choose to come to the mountain.
Jim Martinson, U.S. Army, came to the mountain many years ago, and it changed his life. Jim is a legendary wheelchair racer and skier, who won the gold medal in downhill skiing at the 1996 Paralympics, Albertville, France. He is also an entrepreneur who founded the first racing wheelchair company in 1983. At age 50, he qualified for the Paralympics wheelchair racing team for the 800 meter sprint, the 10,000 meter race, and the marathon. In his words, “turning the best times in my life at age 50.”
Sean Halstead, U.S. Air Force, came to the mountain nine years ago, and it changed his life. He began competing after the 2001 VA Winter Sports Clinic. He is ranked 10th in the world in cross-country skiing and competed in his first Paralympics this year in Vancouver, Canada.
Heath Calhoun, U.S. Army, came to the mountain, and it changed his life. He is an alpine skier and took 2nd place in the U.S. National Championships in adaptive alpine skiing.
Chris Devlin-Young, U.S. Coast Guard, came to the mountain, and it changed his life. He just competed in his 4th Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada, and is a four-time medalist in alpine skiing.
Patrick McDonald, U.S. Army, participated in his first Paralympics games this year, making the team after only two years of wheelchair curling.
Andy Soule, U.S. Army, came to the mountain, and it changed his life. He participated in his first Paralympics this year as a biathlete and cross-country skier. In his first games, he won the bronze medal in the biathlon and is ranked 12th, overall in World Cup standings.
Russell Wolfe, U.S. Army, began competing in archery at the 1999 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. In 2004, and again in 2008, Russell made the U.S. Paralympics team as an archer. He is on the mountain this year, and was here last year. It changed his life.
We are also joined on the mountain this year by Chad Colley and Peter Axelson. Chad earned two gold medals as a Paralympics teammate of Jim Martinson at the 1996 Paralympics, Albertville, France. Peter competed in the 1986, 1988, and 1990 Paralympics, and earned seven medals in those competitions.
Life may have changed for these athletes, but they did not. They would not let themselves be handicapped by limitations. Life has changed for many of you, but you have not. I hope you are as excited about the experiences and the challenges that lie before you as we are.
Whether you are snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, tackling the black diamond runs, or just soaking in the hot springs, I can assure you that you will feel the exhilaration and healing power of these mountains, the friendly embrace of Snowmass, and the warm support of all here.
You see, this is about more than just one week. This is also about deciding how to live the other 51 weeks of the year—reaching for ever-higher and more challenging achievements.
On behalf of all of us who’ve come here to cheer you on, Godspeed and good luck.
God bless our men and women in uniform, God bless out Veterans, and may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.
And now, let’s go conquer the mountain.