The Wood River Ability Program has been awarded a $20,000 grant from U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, to help wounded veterans train in Sun Valley.
The committee awarded $1.25 million to organizations for expansion and creation of programs to help recently wounded and disabled veterans participate in physical activities such as skiing. Wood River Ability Program Executive Director Marc Mast said he hopes the grant will help introduce 40 to 60 wounded veterans to alpine and Nordic skiing, and that some of those veterans would want to continue on to Olympic-level programs.
The awards ranged from $10,000 to $50,000, and though U.S. Paralympics administers the grants, the funding comes from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
This is the second year that the Wood River Ability Program has applied for the grant, but the first time it has received funding. Mast said this year's application was successful because of the seven athletes the program entered in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
"They are very aware of what we do, and they're willing to help us out," Mast said.
One athlete who trained here last winter was Army Spc. Andy Soule, who nabbed a bronze in the 4.5K biathlon (which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting) in 2010.
Soule was the first American to medal in biathlon in either the Olympics or Paralympics, and his training was partially aided by the program, who helped him find affordable housing and a job in the valley so he could live and train here. A double-leg amputee, Soule lost his legs while deployed to Afghanistan in April 2005. He was thrown from his vehicle when it ran over a road mine, and his injuries resulted in amputations of both legs above his knees.
The Wood River Ability program has been working extensively with the Sun Valley Economic Development Corp. and Sustain Blaine to have Sun Valley designated as a training site for both the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams. The Blaine County Recreation District and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation are also working on the three-year business plan that the application requires.
Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Diana Takvam said the organization hopes to submit an application for official certification of Sun Valley to the Olympic committee by April.
She said certification would fit the corporation's economic development strategy by helping to promote the Sun Valley "brand" and re-market it as a place where national-level athletes could congregate.
Mast said the grant from U.S. Paralympics is a sign that Sun Valley is a likely candidate for certification, and should the valley be certified, there's more money where that came from, possibly from official Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola.
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org