Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Charleston VAMC Vets attend Winter Sports Clinic
After two days at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, Scott Isaacks had a message for his colleagues.
“You need to be here. You get to see the incredible things our organization does for the Veterans we serve and the incredible things our Veterans can do.”
Isaacks is the medical center director for the Ralph H. Johnson VA, but April 1 - 6 he volunteered his time as a boot loader during the Winter Sports Clinic. The job sounds as simple as helping skiers put on boots, but the title is misleading. Boot loaders at the clinic position themselves at the chairlift and hoist every Veteran using a monoski onto the lift. Developed for people with spina bifida, lower body amputations or vertebrae injuries, monoskiing involves sitting in a specially designed bucket-chair atop a single, central ski. After ensuring every Veteran is safely lifted onto the chairlift, the boot loaders securely fasten the Veteran in the monoski to the lift. Despite the heavy lifting, Isaacks is ecstatic with the experience.
“When I saw the first Veteran come down the mountain it just blew my mind seeing the courage in them.”
Three Veterans representing the VA in Charleston, South Carolina also participated in the clinic.
Air Force Veteran Joe Cooler, Army and Air Force Veteran John Felix and Army Veteran Joey Williams have each been to the clinic before, but this is the first time they all met ahead of time, shared phone numbers and made plans to get together throughout the week.
“I love skiing, fishing and networking,” said Cooler, an Air Force Veteran, who is visually impaired. “I get to visit with all my friends that I’ve been developing friendships over the past four years.”
Skiing was certainly at the top of each of the Charleston Veterans’ agenda.
“Every time I get on the mountain, it’s another opportunity to hone my skiing skills, especially with my left side weakness,” said Felix, who has Multiple Sclerosis.
Felix and Williams met at a MS support group in Charleston. It was through their friendship that Williams learned about the opportunities at the Winter Sports Clinic. Williams is attending the clinic for the second time.
“Last year I sat to ski,” said Williams. “This time I’m looking forward to standing up and skiing. I think it is going to be very eye-opening to do that.”
Williams prepared for the clinic by strengthening his legs, core and arms through weightlifting and leg squats at his local gym.
For each of these men, the Winter Sports Clinic was more than a week’s stay in Colorado—it was about motivation to focus on the ability within their disability, while keeping them active.
“I hadn’t skied since 1986 before I went to the Winter Clinic four years ago,” said Cooler. “I can do anything I want to do. Guys with disabilities worse than mine are out their beating their challenges.”
Felix, a Connecticut native who used a walker for 11 months, promised himself if he could walk again, he’d ski again.
“I love every opportunity to go. I never thought I’d be able to do this again,” he said.
Isaacks shares why he wanted to attend the Winter Sports Clinic in this interview.