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Ski Program At Alpine Meadows Helps 'Wounded Warriors'

Ed Joyce / Capital Public Radio

Alpine Meadows put on a welcoming glow Wednesday as 18 "wounded warriors" hit the slopes for specialized ski training.

Ed Joyce / Capital Public Radio

Disabled Sports USA Far West is a nonprofit organization located at the Disabled Sports Program Center at Alpine Meadows.

It operates a camp at North Lake Tahoe ski areas every year for severely injured and disabled veterans. 

The camp started Wednesday and continues through Saturday with the vets skiing at Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley and Northstar

Wednesday started with ski instructors meeting the veterans they'd be training - many of them combat veterans of Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan.

Disabled Sports USA Far West Executive Director Haakon Lang-Ree says the camp was started to serve disabled veterans returning from Vietnam. 

"Since 9-11, a whole new generation of disabled warriors have come back and we've been serving them ever since,” said Lang-Ree.

One of the "wounded warriors" is Mariela Maylan, 35, of Livermore. She was injured in 2006 while serving with the Army in Kuwait, as she was helping change a tire. 

"We ended up getting hit by a civilian driver and he hit us and he killed two of the others with me and he hurt me and there was one more that he hurt,” said Maylan. 

Maylan says the last time she skied was at Kirkwood, when she was a teenager. 

"Yes, I'm going to try the the sit-down ski,” said Maylan. “I'm hoping just to have, just to have a good time, that's all." 

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Mariela Maylan (center) with her two instructors, Fernand Michaud (left) and Sara Rowe (right) at Alpine Meadows Wednesday. Maylan was injured while serving with the U.S. Army in Kuwait. Ed Joyce / Capital Public Radio

The sit-down or bi-ski looks like it sounds: a chair on top of two skis. Handheld or fixed "outriggers" give the skier control. 

One of the instructors, Bill Bowness, knows all about skiing that way.

After an auto accident in 1989, when he was 18, he learned how to ski again, on a mono ski, at the adaptive training school at Alpine Meadows.

In 1994, he won three medals at the paralympics at Lillehammer Norway. 

"I really don't think that there's a more rewarding vocation than to teach somebody about a sport that you personally have a passion about,” said Bowness, as he was helping another vet get adjusted to a bi-ski. 

Bowness, who lives in Truckee, is the lead trainer at the disabled ski camp.He says there are at least two reasons he's stayed with the program eight years. 

“One is the big grins, when they feel the wind blowing through their face or across their face, the other is when you see that 'ah-ha' moment, when the lights go on, and you go 'ah that worked, that connected, that's going to make them a better skier,'” said Bowness. 

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Bill Bowness is the lead trainer for the “wounded warriors” ski camp at Alpine Meadows. After an auto accident in 1989, Bowness learned to ski again at the adaptive training school. He went on to win three medals at the 1994 Paralympic Games. Woranuch Joyce / Capital Public Radio

Army Veteran Ray Hernandez of Stockton was being lifted from his wheelchair to be fitted to a bi-ski. Like Maylan, Hernandez, who is 47, was also looking forward to having some fun on the slopes.

He said skiing has become important in his life.  

"I stayed in my house for ten years after I got injured and I'd recommend it, it's great,” said Hernandez. 

Hernandez said he’s skied before, in Colorado, and was smiling as he was heading to the hill for a day of skiing in bright sunshine. 

Lang-Ree said whether standing or sitting, disabled veterans’ build self-confidence and improve their health when they come to the mountains. 

"Hopefully they can go away from this experience and take on some other challenge in life, and that really fits in with our motto, 'If I can do this, I can do anything,’” said Lang Ree. 

And, Maylan and Hernandez, along with 16 other military vets, will be "doing this" on skis through Saturday. 

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Army veteran Ray Hernandez (center) gets ready to be "fitted" with a bi-ski at Alpine Meadows Wednesday with Wes Blackwell (left) and Tim Bryendlson (right). Ed Joyce / Capital Public Radio

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Eighteen wounded warriors receive free winter sports instruction at a special camp at three North Lake Tahoe ski resorts. Courtesy of Lauren Lindley Photography.

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Eighteen wounded warriors receive free winter sports instruction at a special camp at three North Lake Tahoe ski resorts. Courtesy of Lauren Lindley Photography.

Ed Joyce

Former All Things Considered Anchor & Reporter

Ed Joyce is a former reporter and All Things Considered news anchor at Capital Public Radio. Ed is a veteran journalist with experience in a variety of news positions across all media platforms, including radio, television, web and print.   Read Full Bio