Changing lives: Program helps disabled veterans get out of the house

Community Reports

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Not Forgotten Outreach Inc. in Taos is dedicated to the reintegration and whole health healing of military and veterans through various activities and programs, like the Adaptive Sports Program. The program is in its third year of being funded by a grant from the United States Veteran’s Affairs office and is now offering scholarships for disabled veterans interested in skiing or snowboarding at Taos Ski Valley.

The scholarships provide for freeskiing, lessons, meals and lodging with two different options. The first option is a six-day scholarship with or without lessons for adaptive skiers and snowboarders. The second option is a one or two-day scholarship with or without lessons for adaptive skiers and snowboarders. This year, scholarship recipients will be allowed to bring their caretaker if one is necessary. In order to keep instructors and participants safe during the pandemic, one participant at a time will be allowed at the ski resort.

Executive Director Don Peters was a participant in an adaptive sports program himself, which is what put him on the path to modify what he could. He taught himself how to ski, how to ride a tractor only using his hand controls and even modified his motorcycle. “To me, just being out and getting active in a sport was creative enough to get me active in the rest of my life and get back to farming, get back to motorcycles which I used to do prior to my injury,” Peters said.

Throughout his time participating in adaptive sports, Peters has seen first-hand the positive impact this program can have on servicemen and women and likes to use one example of a positive change it’s had on a person. “He isolated for 20 years. He did not want to get out to participate in anything because he did not think he could do it anymore. I met him at a VA an adaptive sports event, started getting together, he is now one of the best skiers on a ski bike that I have ever seen,” Peters said.

He’s seen the program help with participants who struggle with substance abuse, depression and anxiety. Mark Whitson has been hand cycling for the past five years and said adaptive sports changed his life, so much so that he is now a sports ambassador for a national organization that works with veterans. “It gets you out of the house, it makes you stronger mentally and physically, it gets them integrated into the community,” Whitson said.

Not only does the program provide ways for veterans to transition back into the community, but it also creates an opportunity to create its own community. “Now I have friends, it’s a social thing. You get out among similar types of people and then you start sharing what works and what doesn’t work. It just opens so many doors,” Whitson said.

The NFO also offers fly fishing during the spring and summer and an agricultural program where Not Forgotten will plant year-round gardens for a farm-to-school program in which veterans and their families will grow food for local school cafeterias. For more information or to view the scholarship application, visit the Not Forgotten Outreach website.

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