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Undaunted Warriors

Sun Valley Adaptive Sports Takes U.S Marines to Higher Ground

Marine Joe Lowe and local ski instructor Jen Smith capturing the first turns of the day.

Marine Joe Lowe and local ski instructor Jen Smith capturing the first turns of the day.

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When Staff Sergeant Chad Brumpton got a call inviting him to an all-expenses-paid tour in Sun Valley, he had every right to feel suspicious.

“I thought he was trying to sell me a timeshare,” the Marine admits, a sheepish look in his dark eyes.

But the “too good to be true” offer was legitimate, as the smooth salesman on the other end of the line turned out to be Tom Iselin, executive director of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports (SVAS). The non-profit organization has helped people with all manner of disabilities re-connect with recreation and is now in its second year of reaching out to wounded soldiers.

The program has been so well received that Sun Valley Adaptive Sports has recently partnered with the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Military Severely Injured Center which promotes the program to case managers and liaison officers in every branch of the military and, ultimately, directly to 4,000 injured service members.
In fact, the Department of Defense has asked Sun Valley Adaptive Sports to help the Center develop a model to allow other non-governmental organizations to work with the Center to provide sports and recreational rehabilitation services directly to service members. A national conference with the DOD is in the works to fine-tune plans.

In today’s program, veterans are invited to come and bring a companion, family or friend, for a seven-day stay. Donors and charitable foundations fund the program so there is no cost to the veterans. Iselin explains that this particular trip last March was designed to be a reunion for several Idaho Marines wounded with their tank unit in Iraq.

In May of 2005, Brumpton and Corporal Joe Lowe were patrolling near the Syrian border when the tank they were in ran over a bomb. The blast shattered Brumpton’s ankles and fractured his back. Lowe, the tank’s gunner, had his spinal cord severed. Corporal Joseph Danes was crushed when the 7-ton truck he was driving rolled over him twice, leaving him with massive internal injuries and a fractured back. Staff Sergeant Nathan Spaulding considers himself lucky. The mortar shell that tore into Spaulding’s hip and leg took the life of another soldier just 20 feet away.

All of them spent months in military hospitals and have returned to Idaho to lives that have changed to varying degrees. Throughout their tours of duty and rehabilitation, the Wood River Valley could have been nothing more than a tempting mirage.

“Imagine the river, and these beautiful mountains, and all the colors you see here and turn it all brown, brown, brown, and different shades of brown,” Spaulding says, describing the contrast between the stark Iraqi desert with Idaho’s rugged scenery.

And while Sun Valley’s postcard-like qualities have soothed more than one soul, Iselin and the SVAS staff are thinking bigger than sightseeing.

The 25-year-old Lowe, who is paralyzed from the chest down, agrees to give Nordic skiing a try. Wood River Valley resident Eric Schultz demonstrates the sled-like adaptation he uses almost everyday to stay in top shape despite an accident that left him without the use of his legs a few years ago. Lowe follows Schultz’ lead, maneuvering the ski-sled into the groomed grooves of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Headquarters trail.

Lowe’s tattooed triceps bulge as he poles through the firm spring snow. Like any first-time skier, he rejoices when the efforts of the gradual climb are rewarded with an easy downhill glide.

“My mom would cry if she could see me doing this,” Lowe says, his white T-shirt drenched with sweat. >>>

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