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Triumphant return nearly 20 years in the making



By Matt Saintsing


Eighteen years have passed since Kevin Blanchard first stepped foot on the mountain in Snowmass, Colorado. As a first-time National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic participant in 2006, he was limited in the activities he could take part in because of his fresh wounds.

 

“I was still in the hospital, I was in a wheelchair, and I had this cage around my leg,” said Blanchard, who was injured in 2005 in Al Anbar, Iraq. “I couldn’t really ski or do much.

 

“This time will be a lot different.”

 

On the day he was injured, Blanchard’s convoy was on a patrol when a pressure-plated bomb rigged with two 155 mm artillery rounds exploded beneath his driver’s seat. The blast ripped through the floorboard of the up-armored Humvee, causing Blanchard to lose his left leg below the knee and sustain extensive damage to his right.

 

He woke up after a 10-day medically induced coma and began his 13-month recovery. Blanchard’s rehabilitation included surgeries every other day for a month, to clean out infections in his wounds, and a bone graft to replace much of his missing tibia.

 

“It was kind of a blurry time,” he added.

 

This time around at the Winter Sports Clinic, Blanchard looks forward to getting more confident with snowboarding and skiing. He’s hit the slopes a few times in recent years, as he lives near a ski resort in Virginia. Blanchard hadn’t participated in winter sports before he was injured but is now drawn to adaptive sports.

 

“I was thinking, what haven’t I done?”  he said. “I was reminded about the Winter Sports Clinic and thought, let’s try it this year.

 

“I think I can participate a lot more now.”

 

Besides improving his skills on the slopes and between exertion and relaxation, Blanchard looks forward to the camaraderie with other Veterans the event ensures.

 

His message to other participants is to always look for ways to improve, no matter where you start.

 

“Don’t worry about what you can’t do,” he said. “Just get out there and give it a try; it’s courageous and brave to give it a shot.”

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