VAIL, Colo. – Eighteen soldiers who lost limbs while serving in Iraq were learning to ski and snowboard Saturday in Colorado (search), part of an effort to speed their recovery with lessons in winter sports.
The soldiers arrived in this mountain resort town for the weekend after coming straight from Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital (search) in Washington.
Among them was Marine Cpl. Christopher Fesmire, who lost both legs in Iraq when a mine exploded under his Humvee. With a smile and a cigarette between his lips, Fesmire shifted from a wheelchair to a mono-ski during his first lesson.
"A lot of people look at me now as a cripple. I resent that," said Fesmire, 27. "I'm limited, but that doesn't mean I can't do everything I want to do. A couple years from now, I'm going to be running around playing soccer, snowboarding, maybe surfing again. You aren't going to be able to tell I lost my legs."
For many veterans, "the trip to Vail (search) is their first adventure outside of the hospital," said Cheryl Jensen, who organized the event. "This weekend is all about providing an inspirational experience that focuses on abilities versus disabilities."
Ski instructor Sarah Will said there are ways to compensate for the loss of limbs. She should know: Will was paralyzed from the waist down in a ski accident in 1998.
"Sometimes, the double 'amps' will run into a problem where they aren't getting enough forward pressure because they don't have their legs out in front of them," she said. In those cases, amputees can use weight bags to compensate.
Army Capt. David Rozelle attended the ski weekend last year, when it was first offered, after losing his right foot. He returned this time to help fellow soldiers.
"This gives them the confidence to overcome," Rozelle said.