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 as created longstanding partnerships with Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX and the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, CA. VVP now serves a national population of military injured, active duty or retired. VVP has transformed the lives of over 1,121 wounded Veterans and 1,641 family members and caregivers. VVP programs are provided at no cost to wounded Veterans, their family members, and medical support staff from partner military hospitals. VVP continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of military families.
VVP is known as a "gold standard" for recreational therapy by its partner military hospitals. The Secretary of Defense and the US Army recognized VVP for showing an outstanding contribution to soldiers and their families. VVP Founder, Cheryl Jensen, received the Secretary of Defense Medal of Outstanding Service, as well as the Outstanding Civilian Service Award by Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, 38th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, for her exceptional service in support of the United States Army through VVP.
"Luckily for some of us, our stories didn't end on the battlefield that day, rather they began. In those darkest hours, we were never alone, and that sentiment rings true to this day. Through years of rehabilitation and adaptation, our journeys led us all to Vail last week, and what a week it was. The beauty of the landscape was only overshadowed by the wonderful people we were lucky enough to meet and play this great game with. Your generosity and hospitality are second to none, and I can not adequately express how humbling it was for me. The Vail community is now a part of our stories, ever changing and growing, and will forever have a place in my heart." - Retired US Marine, Chris Bowers, 2018 Golf in the Rockies Participant
"The Vail Veterans Program helped my family to grow closer together. It helped me to jump out of my comfort zone through socializing with others and connecting with a new group. I'm still on active duty. I'm currently transitioning out, and part of that transition means letting go of something you identify with, your people. Going through that change and experiencing the Vail Veterans Program has opened my eyes to the other groups of people that care about me." - SSgt Persons Griffith, USMC (Ret.), 2018 Winter Family Program Participant
"In my career, I've had several deployments, each time leaving the family. When I'm back, I have to work through injuries and other items that I have to do for my career, so to have this program available, where I can bring the family, and spend time exclusively doing things with the family, makes a huge difference. It literally erases all of the stressors that we've had over the last couple of years. I couldn't ask for a better program, what we get to do here and how the family comes together." - CW5, Lenny Irwin, US Army (Ret.), 2017 Summer Family Program Participant
"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." - Staff Sgt. Dominic Chavez, USMC (Ret.), 2014 Winter Family Program Participant
"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." - SGT Chris Fesmire, USMC (Ret.), 2004 & 2017 Winter Mountain Adventure Participant
"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." - Harvey Naranjo, Adaptive Sports Program Coordinator & Service Dog Program Liaison at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
"Being with other caregivers feels empowering and safe. We understand each other. We are able to discuss things openly and freely, without having to worry and knowing that we can be there for one another. People who are not caregivers, they want to be there, they want to understand, but they can't. We know how to help each other get through it, it's a world of a difference. This is what can make us feel whole again."- Brandi Melott, Caregiver to Wounded Veteran, 2016 Caregivers Retreat Participant