We caught up with Joe Bieganek (orthotist and Ride Designs president) to discuss his experiences at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, held in Snowmass Village, Colorado during the first week in April. This annual event provides a fun and safe way for Veterans with disabilities to explore many different adaptive sports and activities. It’s also a great opportunity for veterans to come together, relax and enjoy the company of friends. To immerse yourself in what this event is like, check out this powerful video about what the Winter Sports Clinic means to the Veterans that participate.
How long have you been participating in the Winter Sports Clinic?
This year was my 15th year volunteering at the event. The event itself has been going on for over 30 years.
Why is this event so important to you?
The whole event is about getting disabled Veterans out into activities and sport activities. And it’s important to me because these are men and women who have been injured one way or another while serving the country and it is just an incredible way for us to give back to our Veterans, to be there and to help them.
How do you help?
I’m part of a group of professionals that come together yearly to staff the Prosthetics and Seating team, led by Kendra Betz, DPT. We apply the same science, and provide the same technology, that we use in our everyday seating practices to help the veterans at the event be as active as possible. Our goal is to help keep their skin safe and help maintain good posture so that they can have a great experience on the hill, or in a hockey sled, Nordic skiing, or in whatever event they are doing.
Has there been an exceptionally memorable moment?
There are so many, but there is one that jumps out. We’ve worked with a Veteran with a double hip disartic over the last four to five years to simply get him sitting again. He had both legs when I first started working with him and then over a series of events, skin issues and health, he lost both of his legs. He just wanted to ski again with his family.
So over the past few years, he’s visited our Aspen Seating Clinic in Denver. Going through fittings and working with him has been very challenging. We have to design seating to keep him in his monoski, without legs, which is very difficult.
This year when we showed up to at the Winter Sports Clinic, he wasn’t on the list to work with. So everyone started calling him, trying to find out what was going on. When we finally reached him, he said “I’m good, I’ve skied 20 times this year, I am ready to go!” Now that’s really cool!
What sort of changes do you see in Veterans over the course of the week?
You might expect the energy to go down as the event goes on, but at the Winter Sports Clinic it is the exact opposite. People seem to get more fired up as the week comes to a close. It is such a great freedom from everyday life to be out on the hill — and there are such great coaches and teams. The whole event gives the Veterans an atmosphere in which to relax — like a winter camp. And camaraderie — we have a lot of repeat people that come back year after year. It’s an event that many Veterans look forward to throughout the year.
What events do you assist with?
Typically, the organizers make sure we shift around a lot so volunteers get many different experiences. There is a focus on education — learning about sports, good positioning and seating so VA employees can take the knowledge back to their hospitals. The experiences help volunteers become more knowledgeable about working with Veterans both in everyday seating and sport interfacing.
We move around between events such as Nordic skiing, Alpine Skiing, Sled Hockey, and Snowmobiling. There are so many different activities to participate in, even scuba diving, but I mostly help with the ones that involve sitting. This year we also rebuilt a snowmobile backrest for Veterans with high injury level and SCI snowmobile riders. Snowmobiling has been an event for quite a while, but not everyone can participate due to safety. Our goal is to have the event available to more people in the future.
The National Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic will take place September 16-21 in San Diego, California. Click here (and scroll down) for a links to all Veteran Affairs Events. Information on volunteering at the Winter Sports Clinic is here.
Note: Photos watermarked Thin Air Images, LLC are courtesy of Joel Bach.