Veterans hit the slopes to help heal at Holiday Valley

Local News

ELLICOTTVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) – Friday was a very cold, breezy day at Holiday Valley, but one group of skiers was battling more than just the elements as they hit the slopes there. More than a dozen veterans with disabilities were overcoming physical and psychological challenges with help from the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program.

“The Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program teaches disabled people, children and adults both, to ski so that their lives can be fuller and they can do something everybody else can do,” explained Mary Ellen Racich, the program’s director.

On Friday, veterans came from as far away as Ohio to take advantage of that opportunity, thanks to a partnership between the VA Western New York Healthcare System’s Recreation Therapy program, the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program, Disabled American Veterans, and Student Veterans of America.

Each participant was able to enjoy a full day of individual instruction and any adaptive tools they may have needed free of charge. It’s meant to be a very valuable experience.

“The camaraderie is excellent. The camaraderie between them and guys from Cleveland meeting guys from Buffalo and women – we’ve had a lot more women in the last number of years,” Racich said.

Navy Veteran Amy Pahl is one of those women. “I’m really excited to ski. It’s a really great opportunity,” she told News 4 as she was gearing up to hit the slopes.

Pahl, who served in Iraq and Qatar, admitted she was a little nervous about skiing, too. “Last time I came here, I fell and fell and fell,” she said.

Truth is, falls happen. A lot. Even to the most experienced winter sports enthusiasts.

But what’s important is that everyone just keeps getting back up, both literally, by getting the skis back under them, and figuratively, persevering through all the challenges veterans with disabilities may face. “It’s therapeutic to have something to do, something different, something that you might not normally be able to do,” Pahl said.

“Some of our veterans have been injured. Maybe they have PTSD, maybe they have injuries inside that we can’t see, and this brings them out of that,” said Pamela Kaznowski, Recreation Therapy Supervisor for the VA of Western New York Healthcare System.

“Sometimes our guys aren’t able to get out of bed. This really gives them the reason to get up, to get out and to really start enjoying life again,” she added.

Friday’s program was one of two days of this kind Holiday Valley is hosting for veterans this season. The next one will be on March 3rd, and potential participants can still sign up through the VA’s Recreation Therapy program.

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