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Nonprofit holds clinic to teach combat-wounded veterans to Nordic ski in Grand County

Nonprofit holds clinic to teach combat-wounded veterans to Nordic ski in Grand County
Posted at 1:10 PM, Feb 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-20 19:11:56-05

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. — A veteran nonprofit helped a group of 21 combat-wounded veterans learn how to Nordic ski at Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center last week.

On Feb. 14, the veterans were welcomed to the Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center in Grand County, where professional instructors were ready to teach them classic or skate ski styles.

This was organized by the nonprofit Semper Fi & America’s Fund, which helps injured and ill veterans become involved with sports and benefit from the physical and mental benefits.

Nonprofit holds clinic to teach combat-wounded veterans to Nordic ski in Grand County

Cami Gage, manager of sports programs for the nonprofit, said Nordic skiing is an excellent sport for the veterans because it's quiet and is out in nature. It's also adaptive for people of all sorts of abilities.

"This is on trails so there's no chairlift," Gage said. "You're earning your turns. You're earning your uphills. You're earning your downhills.”

Every person who comes to the nonprofit becomes part of the family, and adaptive sports is one just part of that, she explained.

"So, over the course of a couple of days, they learn the skills of a sport, but they also get all the camaraderie associated with hanging out together in nature," she said. "So they just start opening up after a couple of days. It's pretty amazing."

Gage said she never tires of watching somebody unlock what is possible for them.

“Sport is the gateway for that," she said.

Injured Marine veteran Steve Bultje was one of the participants. The New Braunfels, Texas resident joined the Marine Corps in 2007 and on his second deployment in Afghanistan in 2011, he was struck by an IED, which shattered his right foot and ankle and severely damaged his right knee. He said he tried to keep the limb for two years, but at that point, doctors recommended amputating the foot.

"So I'm a below-the-knee amputee now," he said.

While Bultje has worked with Semper Fi & America’s Fund for about 12 years, he said he hasn't participated in any activities for some time while he focused on family and work.

He said he has never tried snow skiing — or any snow sports. He said his instructor, who led both Bultje and another Marine, was fabulous. Despite a steep learning curve, he stuck with it and ended up having a blast.

"(The instructor) just really drilled the fundamentals, got us into some more advanced stuff and was there for us," he said. "Anytime I had a question, she was answering me, helped me out, doing a little bit of adaptations here and there to make sure everything's safe and comfortable for me. But just really helping us get that confidence built up."

Bultje said he enjoyed the camaraderie of the day and connecting with other people.

"And we all just kind of pull in as a team — that natural brotherhood coming right back out," he said.

The National Sports Center for the Disabled also helped run this event.

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