Steamboat Springs The way Terry Smutney looks at it, skiing gave him back his life.
"Up to a year ago in December, when I took my first ski lesson, I didn't do anything because I was always on narcotic meds," Smutney said. "I was pretty much a zombie because of the painkillers."
And he had been that way for 14 years -- since injuries suffered in the 1991 Gulf War left him using a wheelchair.
Smutney, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., was among 20 adaptive skiers in Steamboat Springs this week who took part in the first All-Mountain Ski Camp and Powdercats Trip.
The event was hosted by Adaptive Adventures, Access Anything, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., and Steamboat Powdercats. Event organizers demonstrated to the participants -- some wheelchair users, others amputees -- that anything is possible.
"A lot of people with disabilities don't think they can do things like this," Access Anything co-founder Craig Kennedy said. "We're here to show them otherwise."
The group spent Tuesday on Buffalo Pass, tackling backcountry powder skiing with Powdercats. For athletes like Smutney and Vijay Viswanathan, who ski while strapped into the seat of a mono ski, backcountry powder can be intimidating. Mono skiers who tip over in the deep snow on Buffalo Pass can disappear into the fluff until a companion skis up and helps them.
Still, Smutney and Vis--wanathan swear that skiing is more helpful than the pain medications they depended on.
"Skiing and biking, for both of us, was a way to get off the meds," Viswanathan said.
Both men say they are able to manage their pain by conjuring up mental images of a magical ski day like the one they were preparing to enjoy on Buffalo Pass this week.
"I used to handle the pain by popping pills," Smutney said. "Now, I visualize myself coming down the mountain or being on that bike. It's an escape."
Viswanathan, who is about to turn 21, suffered a severe spinal injury two years ago while rappelling from a cliff near Boulder. His injury was at the top of his spinal column. It robbed him of the use of the abdominal muscles that most wheelchair users employ to help turn their mono skis. The damage to his spine left him struggling with stiffness and extreme muscle spasticity. He relaxes his muscles through swimming and has learned to steer his mono ski by hunching forward and using his shoulders.
Participants in the ski camp this week had some well-known athletes to work with them. Sarah Will, a 12-time paralympic gold medalist, coached the adaptive skiers.
Also in town was Bill Bemby, a four-time paralympian who holds the national amputee record in shot put, discus and javelin. Demby lost both of his legs in Vietnam when he was injured by the blast of a Viet Cong rocket. Today, he is a motivational speaker who knows how participation in athletics can help individuals with disabilities physically and spiritually.
Bemby, who lives in Mary--land, will never forget his first trip to Steamboat.
"I came out here 30-plus years ago," he said. "I was trying to ski with two skis and poles. Billy Kidd showed me how to use just one ski. With his patience, he got me up and skiing."
Too often, Bemby said, people look at those with physical disabilities and translate those limitations onto their mental capacity.
As a high school student, long before he suffered his war wounds, Demby was told by his guidance counselor that he wasn't college material. After Vietnam, he regained his confidence and went to college. One of his proudest moments was being invited to his high school to speak to the students.
"I warned them about people who steal dreams," Demby said. "We need to tell people with disabilities that everything is possible. I tell them they should be the one who determines what they do in life and not to let other people decide for them."
There were several injured Iraq war veterans taking part in this week's camp, and Demby said it's an experience that can help them confront some of their most significant issues.
"First, it teaches them that the American people care about them right now," Demby said. "Second, it helps them build up the confidence they need to (reveal) their disabilities to other people. It can be hard when you first come back -- you don't want people to see you.
"You have to move beyond when you first got hit."
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