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, Vail Veterans Program (VVP) Founder and President, 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 VVP took place at Vail Mountain.
VVP has since continued its partnership with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as well as developed longstanding partnerships with Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX and the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, CA. VVP continues to serve a national population of military injured, both active duty and retired. In 2019, VVP provided 1,558 days of life-changing experiences serving 196 wounded veterans, 99 spouses and caregivers, 77 children, and 17 partner military hospital staff. VVP programs are provided at no cost to wounded Veterans, their family members, or medical support staff from partner military hospitals.
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.
"After I understood the extent of my injuries, I realized that I might not make it out of this alive, and I wasn't certain if it would be a life worth living, with a body worth living in. There was so much that I still wanted to do and so many people to live for. I decided to try what others referred to as 'adaptive sports' such as volleyball and horseback riding which proved unfulfilling. When I came to Vail Veterans Program, I tried mono skiing and for the first time since being injured, I felt an adrenal rush and felt alive. Thank God I did. I found a family of people and friends that I still network with. This is a special community and the entire town takes part in this. I cannot thank you enough for what you have done for my family and I." - Retired US Army Captain, Greg Galeazzi, 2020 Winter Family Program Participant
"The Vail Veterans Program OUR MISSION CONTINUES grant has definitely impacted mine and my family's life in many ways and we will be forever grateful. We felt in a time like this we weren't alone. VVP has surprised us with such generosity, and I am grateful to be part of such a wonderful program that always brings me and all the service members happiness, not just in a time of need, but throughout the years. VVP continues to do great things for its military personnel. I am happy to be able to call y'all family. Thank you. I hope to see everyone soon. Stay safe." - Gilbert Builtron, U.S. Navy Petty Officer Third Class (Ret), VVP Alumni and OUR MISSION CONTINUES Grant Recipient
"Our journey started three years ago when our life took a 180-degree turn. We went from being newly retired to being full-time Caregivers for our son, Brendan, an F-18 Fighter Pilot. During Brendan's assignment in Honolulu, we received a call that there had been an incident and he had developed an unknown brain disease. To continue extensive neurological testing we became patients at Walter Reed, living on campus for nearly a year, and attending 7 to 8 appointments a day. When we were invited to the Vail Veterans Program, Brendan's condition had become more severe, and he wasn't walking. I had never seen an adaptive program in full force but Brendan spent the week skiing and he got it! We made connections with other Veterans and Caregivers and were treated with such kindness. We created a network of support and still keep in contact with other military families. It is phenomenal to see how the Vail Veterans Program extends out. To come to an organization like Vail Veterans Program to heal, we truly cannot thank you enough." - Sue & Larry Pederson, Caregivers to Retired Lieutenant Commander, Brendan Pederson, 2019 Winter Mountain Adventure Program, 2018 Military Caregiver Retreat, and 2019 Military Caregiver Reunion Participants
"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
"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.), VVP Alumni and Ambassador
"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