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Returning to the Mountain of Miracles

Dave Riley standing at Winter Sports Clinic
Dave Riley

This past week and over the past several years, you may have seen me here at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic—flying down the mountain. You’ve probably seen me fall down on the mountain, too!

Before my disabilities, I was an adrenaline junkie. It’s what led me into the Army and then to become a rescue swimmer in the Coast Guard.

But I thought that was all over in 1997 when I woke up from a coma and discovered that in order to save my life from a devastating bacterial infection, doctors had removed all four of my limbs.

I was medically retired from the military just over two decades ago. If you had told me that one day I would be flying down a mountain with snow flying everywhere and the wind whipping past me, I would have never believed it. I would have never believed that I would one day be skiing, rock climbing and playing hockey.

Each of you understands how a single moment can change everything in our lives. Whether it’s the diagnosis of a life-changing medical condition or a devastating injury, we are all susceptible to one day being faced with challenges that change our daily lives and our future visions. These injuries and medical conditions create obstacles, but they don’t have to stop us from living full, active lives. We need to be determined to overcome those obstacles that try to block us physically and mentally.

I’ve learned to conquer this mountain with no arms and no legs. Was it easy? No. I was determined to do it, but that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. I fell down. A lot! But I got back up. And later I would fall, but I would get back up again. I was determined to prove to myself I could do it, but it was really inspiration from my fellow veterans—fighters and warriors—who always got back up.

That is what we do at the clinic. We may slip and we may fall—but we never, ever give up. It’s about teamwork, too. We are not here alone. We have hundreds of battle buddies beside us who will not allow us to fail, and we won’t let them fail.

I encourage you to take what you have learned about yourself out on the mountain this past week back to your communities. You have achieved great things this week—don’t stop when you leave Snowmass.

I know you can do it!

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