Friday, December 2, 2011

Olympic grant helps wounded vets

Wood River Ability Program receives $18,000

Express Staff Writer

The Wood River Ability Program has been awarded an $18,000 grant from U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, to help wounded veterans train in Sun Valley.

Though this amount is less than the program received last year, Executive Director Marc Mast said the program actually asked for less, and received the full amount of its request.

Much of the money will be used to host a camp for wounded veterans through the Boise VA in January, Mast said, while $3,000 will go toward buying new equipment such as a sit-ski.

Last year, the program received $20,000 and Mast was able to match those funds with other donations to host three ski camps for wounded veterans throughout the season, he said. The camps were three to four days long, and all expenses were covered by the program.

Mast said the most challenging—and interesting—group to work with was a group from Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, all of whom were struck with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries.

Mast said those injuries were the most severe he'd ever seen, which posed unusual challenges.

"When we'd go to a restaurant, we'd have to make sure they were all sitting with their backs to the wall so they could see what was going on," Mast said. "We'd have to be really careful about loud noises, or touching them and startling them."


Mast said the veterans worked well in a group, supporting each other and relating to each other's disabilities.

He said the greatest benefit of the ski camps for veterans is the way the activity shows them they can still live a "normal" life despite their injuries. Some of the camps allow veterans to bring families, spouses or other loved ones, in an attempt to bring families closer together.

"It's really powerful," Mast said. "It makes them feel like they can still be included in everyday life."

This year, the U.S. Olympic Committee awarded grants of up to $25,000 to individual organizations for expansion and creation of programs to help recently wounded and disabled veterans participate in physical activities such as skiing.

Though U.S. Paralympics administers the grants, the funding comes from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Wood River Ability Program has also been working extensively with Sustain Blaine and the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation to have Sun Valley designated as a training site for both the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.

Mast said he will meet with the committee when it visits Sun Valley in January prior to making a designation decision. However, the recent grant is not connected to the designation, he said.

"It just shows they like what we're doing," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

Race for W.R.A.P.

A local high school student is also raising money for the Wood River Ability Project by organizing a Nordic relay race held this weekend. Sloan Storey, a senior at Wood River High School, said she decided to organize a Nordic race for her senior project. Storey said the race became a fundraiser because Director Marc Mast is a close friend, and also coached Storey's sister, Elitsa, to a place on the U.S. Paralympic Alpine Ski Team. Sloan Storey has been Nordic skiing for six years and has been an alpine skier for most of her life, but this is her first time she has organized a race. As a result, she said, she does not have a fundraising goal. Storey has already had to move the race's location from Lake Creek to Galena Lodge to take advantage of a better snowpack up north. Registration begins at 10 a.m. at the lodge, and the entrance fee is $25 for a team of three. Teams can register for either the novice or advanced divisions. Participants and spectators can also buy raffle tickets to support the Wood River Ability Program.

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