To provide military injured and their families with innovative and transformational programs that build confidence and improve lives.
In 2003, with the number of severe military service injuries increasing dramatically, Founder and Executive Director, Cheryl Jensen, felt compelled to help. A former adaptive ski instructor, Jensen understood the powerful impact adaptive skiing has on people faced with physical or mental disabilities and challenges. She recognized the healing benefits of the Colorado Rocky Mountains and wanted to give these recently wounded veterans the opportunity to experience this uniquely empowering environment. Jensen reached out to then Army Captain, David Rozelle, who had lost his leg below the knee while serving in Iraq in March 2003. Together, Jensen and Rozelle were able to secure necessary funds to offset the costs associated with hosting military hospital patients in Vail, CO, including transportation, lodging, food & beverage, specialized adaptive equipment and adaptive ski instruction. In 2004, with seven patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, the first Vail Veterans Program (VVP) took place at Vail Mountain.
VVP has since continued its partnership with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as well partnerships with Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX and the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, CA. Today, VVP serves a national population of military injured, active duty or retired, from across the nation. VVP has continued to evolve to meet the needs of the wounded veteran population through providing year-round programming, impacting the lives of over 780 wounded veterans and 1,350 family members and caregivers since 2004.
U.S. Army Maj. Dale Papka, his wife, and two children attended the 2016 Summer Family Program: "This trip has been a chance for my family and I to get out and do activities that we've never gotten to do together - ziplining, horseback riding, things that, especially with my injury, we are unable to do. Seeing my daughter overcome her fear of heights and horses makes this trip all the worthwhile to me. It also gives my wife and I a chance to rekindle our spark. The injury that I've had with my leg, it's put a lot of pressure on us, but this is a great chance for us to take a break, have a good time together, and enjoy what we've missed."
USMC Staff Sgt. Dominic Chavez, came to Vail with his wife, Clorinda, and two daughters, Rozlynn, 4, and Addisyn, 2. During one of the family dinners, Dominic shared his feelings about attending the Vail Veterans Program for the first time: "When I was injured, it took two long weeks before I could see my family. Throughout my recovery from my leg amputation, my wife and girls have often been on the back burner. Here at the Vail Veterans Program they are front and center, having an amazing time, smiling and seeing what's possible for all of us. It's been wonderful for us as a family."
Marine SGT Chris Fesmire, Ret: "The Vail Veterans Program not only changed my life, it saved my life. Without it, I'm not sure where I would be, probably dead in a gutter. It really is the best kind of therapy. It teaches you how to live. It helps you adapt to your new life, whatever it may be."
SSG Bobby Henline: "The Vail Veterans Program helped my whole family. My wife and kids received well deserved attention from everyone involved in the Vail Veterans Program because they realize how much the family also sacrifices. I can't put it in words to explain how good it felt to see my family enjoying life after I all most lost mine."
LTC Greg Gadson: "The Vail Veterans summer program was the first program I participated in when I was injured, resulting in the loss of both of my legs. You can quickly tell that it's a community sponsored event by which the whole community and their volunteer spirit help wounded warriors and their families heal. It sets the benchmark for how these kind of events should be run."
Harvey Naranjo, Adaptive Sports Program Coordinator & Service Dog Program Liaison at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center: "I for over 10 years have worked with The Vail Veterans Program to provide first class adaptive sports opportunities to Veterans under our care with permanent mental & physical disabilities. As a medical provider, it is essential that I work with adaptive sports providers who can offer safe and effective programs. The Vail Veterans Programs are of the highest quality and professionalism and have been extremely beneficial to our patients and their families. I hold their staff and program philosophy in the highest regard. The Vail Veterans Program was even recognized by former Chief of Staff of the ARMY GEN Raymond Odierno recognizing its founder with The Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. The Vail Veterans Program offers Summer & Winter Adaptive Sports opportunities such as skiing, snowboarding, golfing, fly fishing, mountain biking, and more to veterans and their families. These programs are held in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. The Vail Veterans Program is always evolving to meet our Veterans' needs. It has been a great resource to me and the other Military hospitals who seek to treat their patients with safe and effective programs."