Army Veteran David Pettigrew first attended the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in 2003, just six months after he lost his right leg to an IED in Iraq. . He had zero experience with adaptive skiing -- and it didn’t go well.
“Six months out from injury I wasn’t even remotely competent to move myself around without skis, and on the skis, I was just turning left and falling over,” said Pettigrew. “I didn’t have enough of a handle on my own mobility yet to learn a new skill.”
Fast forward twenty years and he’s back at the Winter Sports Clinic after whittling more than 100 pounds off his frame. In 2021, Pettigrew made a lifestyle change after witnessing a friend recover from surgery following a back injury. He realized, that at 300 pounds, a similar injury would render him immobile.
“I was basically slowly killing myself with my lifestyle. I spent all of 2021 losing 110 pounds, and then in 2022, the goal was learning how to maintain that. I just started trying anything that recreation therapy has to offer to see what sticks.”
A kayaking skill building program with Adaptive Adventures in Westminster, Colorado, set him on a path that was a pivotal moment in his wellness journey. At the beginning it was a struggle to balance in a kayak in whitewater, but finally, on the last day, he was successful.
“Not one time did anyone say to me ‘you just can’t do it.’ Everybody said, ‘how do we get you to do this.,'' Pettigrew said. "That experience was so profound for me in changing my outlook. It’s not that I can’t do this, it’s that I don’t try things. Because if I try things, we can find a way. Adaptive sports are about getting to do the same things as everyone else, even if it’s in a different way.”
The moment sparked a mental and psychological shift that put his wellness journey into overdrive. He learned that while he may not love every sport, the key is just to try. Since then, he has also experienced rock climbing, dragon boating, and now skiing.
In January 2023, he joined the Ignite adaptive skiing program at Eldora Mountain Ski Resort through a partnership with the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System’s recreational therapy program. The volunteers at Ignite helped him learn to three track and sit-ski, leaving him better prepared and looking forward to his second time at Winter Sports Clinic where, in addition to skiing, he will try sled hockey and SCUBA.
“I didn’t think I’d ever try skiing again, but it’s fun. Once you get comfortable being uncomfortable, you can relax into your body and let your body learn to move.”