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Air Force Veteran defies limitations at the Winter Sports Clinic

Air Force Veteran Samantha Wicks snowmobiles at the T-Lazy-7 Ranch in Aspen, Colorado on April 5, 2024, with the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

By Janelle Beswick, Interim Public Affairs Officer, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System

SNOWMASS, Colo. – One warm August night in 2022, Air Force Veteran Samantha Wicks did what she always did when she couldn’t sleep - she jumped on her Honda Shadow 650 motorcycle and took off down Shepard Road. The scenic route took her along the Mississippi River near her home in the Twin Cities and she drove it often to unwind. That night, her relaxing ritual turned into a nightmare.

When a truck took a sudden left turn in front of her, she instinctively swerved right, slamming into a bulldozer parked by the side of the road and falling 30 feet into an open construction hole. Critically injured, frightened and in shock she lay trapped for six hours.

“There was a gas station two blocks away, so I tried shouting for help for a couple hours. I was disappointed in myself and frustrated that I couldn’t climb out,” said Wicks. “I had a Bluetooth helmet on, but I had never read the instructions because I had felt invincible.”

She wasn’t discovered until the next morning, when a utility crew arrived to continue repairs on the water main and discovered her broken and bleeding.

Wicks spent two months at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. She had shattered her right pelvis, right shoulder, right hand and had a compound right femur fracture.

A week after a surgery to repair her femur, Wicks developed a serious infection, delirious from the high fever she developed weeping sores across her body.

“They cut my foot off first to try to catch the infection, and that didn’t work. Then they cut below the knee trying to catch it, and that didn’t catch it,” said Wicks. “And then they cut above the knee and that’s what caught it.”

Despite the medical trauma, she didn’t realize her leg was at risk of amputation and found it difficult to process the grief of the loss.

“I yelled at them for playing Frankenstein and not just letting me die.”

Recovery from her accident at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System includes counseling, ketamine therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy for PTSD and military sexual trauma, as well as physical therapy, occupational therapy and recreation therapy. Outdoor recreation, including paracycling and kayaking, play a huge role in her recovery.

Wicks traveled to the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic for the first time in 2024, where she found a sense of belonging.

“For the first time in a long while I feel like I’m around family and friends and everyone isn’t staring at me. No one is approaching me thinking they are entitled to my trauma,” said Wicks. “I don’t have to spend all day telling everyone what happened to me, everyone just wants to know who I am as a human.”

Skiing in the monoski was challenging for Wicks, but she felt at home being back on a snowmobile, an activity she has loved since childhood.

“I had some reservations, I haven’t traveled since I lost my limb, but it’s filled me with so much courage. Seeing everyone out here kicking butt, it lets me know that despite what happened to me, there are no limitations.”

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