Snowboarding down a mountainside is not typically where you’ll find Army Veteran Frances Osorio Rivera. Many days she’s in the water off the coast of Miami giving kiteboarding lessons to students or catching air herself.
Kiteboarding has been a part of her life for more than 15 years since first seeing it as a child growing up in Puerto Rico. But a car accident while on active duty in 2011 almost ended her pursuit of her passion. Because of the accident, doctors had to amputate her left leg below the knee.
Rivera said the journey of adjusting to the loss of her leg hasn’t been easy, and that she has found recovery to be frustrating at times to the point of wanting to give up.
“It’s something I take day by day,” said Rivera.
Where she found the most comfort and healing was through working out and being in nature. That’s what led her back to kiteboarding, despite having to relearn and adapt to riding with a prosthetic.
Learning to adapt is also what drew Rivera to the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. As proficient as she is on the water, she said she found the process of trying something out of her comfort zone, failing and then starting to see progress to be important to her mental health.
“It ignites that sense of independence and gives you a drive to keep going,” said Rivera.
This is her second time attending the event. She first attended in 2019.
Rivera said she is most looking forward to catching up with teammates who came to the clinic three years ago. She recalled how good of a feeling it was to be in the village and on the mountainside with all the volunteers and participants feeding off the same energy during the week.
Rivera’s advice for first-time participants is simple: “Put yourself out there,” she said. “Interact with as many people as possible. Be open to the miracles that happen on the mountainside.”
Rivera takes experiences like the winter sports clinic and her time on the water kiteboarding and applies them to helping others. She works with several nonprofits to teach disabled Veterans adaptive sports.
“It took me nearly a decade to be at peace with myself,” said Rivera. “What better way to pay it forward than to show others from my experience and help out wherever I can.”