Serving those who’ve served

Telluride Daily Planet | By Leslie Vreeland | June 11, 2017 | Link to Article

She’s the executive director of the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, and she would know. Stuechli is describing the volunteers, the professional expertise, the amount of outdoor gear, and permits — in short, the daunting amount of logistics and planning and care — that have gone into organizing a rather extraordinary event beginning today (Sunday) and continuing through Tuesday: An Outdoor Pursuits Camp that TASP will host in Telluride. 

In addition to a village, it also takes an army — or rather, veterans of the armed services. TASP is bringing 22 of them to camp for the second year in a row through its partnership with the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit whose mission is to “provide urgently needed resources and lifetime support for wounded, critically ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.”

Semper Fi, one of the most highly regarded charities for veterans in the U.S., has served more than 18,000 service members and their families since its inception in 2004, said Brian McPherson, the fund’s senior communications manager.

“We go to the service members. They don’t come to us,” McPherson said.

Semper Fi’s outreach typically begins in the hospital — either at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where critically injured service members are transferred from the battlefield overseas, or at Walter Reed medical center in Bethesda, Maryland, a first stop for injured warriors stateside. The U.S. provides a limited amount of funds — for a limited number of family members — to enable family members to travel and stay with the wounded, McPherson said. Semper Fi helps make up the difference.

The fund allowed Carlos Torres’s mother to visit him in Bethesda after he was critically injured in Iraq.

“They flew my mom out and took care of her (food and hotel) bills, so she could stay in the hospital with me,” he said (Torres was in Bethesda for about three months).

Torres, a member of the Marine Corps, was critically injured when he stepped on an explosive device in Iraq in July 2011.

“That was it,” he said. Battlefield medical personnel immediately “Put you out. I got Medivac’d. I woke up a week later in Germany.”

Torres’s legs were amputated from below the knees as a result of the injury, and critically injured his elbow. Semper Fi’s assistance didn’t stop with hotel bills: Once he was back in California, the nonprofit introduced him to outdoor programs for adaptive athletes.

“Growing up in Los Angeles, I’d hang out with my friends. I was never outdoorsy,” Torres said. Yet Semper Fi’s programs — in swimming, mountain biking, hiking and more — were immensely helpful.

“They helped keep my mind occupied” instead of sitting at home and focusing on his injury and what he has lost, Torres said. “This has totally changed my life. (The programs) teach you new skills. You learn there are things you can accomplish; you’re not limited to your disability.”

Next week, Torres will visit Telluride for the first time. TASP has structured a challenging program “that stresses technical skills,” not physical activity, Stuechli said. “Knowledge is power — it’s empowering to have a set of skills that you can develop and keep learning, should you choose to.”

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