Smiles Abound at Winter Sports Event 

by Steve Beres

I was fortunate enough to have been invited to a couple of adaptive sports activities this winter. I attended both. For the sake of space, I will be able to discuss only one of these events but hope to write about the other at some point in the future.

Sun Valley Adaptive Sports (SVAS), located in Sun Valley, Idaho, held an event for blind Wounded Warriors in early January. Along with myself, five other blinded veterans from the latest conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their significant others, made it to Idaho. We participated in alpine skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowmobiling, and paragliding. Unfortunately, the weather did not allow everyone to participate in the paragliding. Those who did participate enjoyed the exhilaration of taking off from the top of old “Baldy.”

The program and staff at SVAS were excellent and we all had a fantastic time.

Not only did we have the oportunity to get back into winter sports (I, myself, had not skied since the loss of my sight), we were able to talk with one another about our experiences serving in the Middle East, the challenges inherent in dealing with injuries, the healing process, and the moving forward in our personal lives after traumatic injury.

During our discussions, there were times when our groups naturally divided. The spouses, in this case all ladies, went off and did their own thing while we separated for “guy time.” This proved to be invaluable. Well documented now is the fact that injury and blindness affect not only the one who has been blinded but family members and other loved ones. This is especially true when the loss is from traumatic injury.

When such traumatic injury occurs, the other individuals affected sometimes move from the role of spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, etc. to caregiver, at least for a time. The stress on them can be as daunting as dealing with significant injuries and loss of sight.

The SVAS staff took the time to help all of us deal with these issues and gave us “tools” to take home. The tools can be used to continue the healing process by helping us maintain our passion for winter sports activities upon our return home.

A couple of my favorite times at the event involved hearing the experiences of others. I remember sitting out by the deck overlooking the mountain while a fellow blinded veteran and BVA member told me of the screams of his wife as she proceeded down the ski run. The screams were screams of delight. He told me that hearing his wife laugh from that type of excitement was, in and of itself, enough to make the stay at Sun Valley a success. Since the time of his traumatic injury and return from Iraq, he said, he had not heard her laugh like that. This was a time for her to enjoy herself without having to feel that she always had to be at his side.

I also stood on the deck and spoke with one of the spouses. It was the end of the day and we were waiting for the last veteran still out on the slopes to return with his instructor. As we were standing there, she told me that she could see him coming. As she said this, I could hear the crack in her voice and sensed the tears welling up in her eyes. I asked her if everything was all right, not knowing what had caused this change in her voice. She stated that her husband had a grin from ear to ear, a smile she could see when he was still perhaps halfway up the ski run. She told me that she had not seen him smile like that since his injury. She was emotional, she said, because it was a smile that was familiar and one she had seen frequently in the past.

I thank SVAS staff members for their commitment to our Wounded Warriors and for providing us with such an incredible experience. I am happy to acknowledge BVA’s role as a sponsor of this event. Our organization provided gift baskets for all attendees, a gesture certainly worthy of our motto “Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans.”

In addition to his position as BVA National Treasurer, Steven Beres also currently serves as President of the Michigan Regional Group.