Inside Events: Veterans Adaptive Sports
17 May, 2017By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Doug Tuttle, Executive Director
Veterans Adaptive Sports promotes rehabilitation of disabled military service veterans through adaptive sports. The organization serves veterans with spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments and neurological injuries.
Advancements in physical medicine, technology and public awareness of disabilities have provided opportunities for disabled veterans to have access to society outside of home. Veterans Adaptive Sports is the next step in this evolution, offering programs based on competitive sports, leisure sports and recreational activities. Programs provide them with an opportunity to find their lost confidence and self-esteem, and to become productive citizens and family members. Sports include everything from golf to rock climbing to cycling to skiing and snowboarding, as well as whitewater rafting, SCUBA diving and more.
Some of the programs the group works with are Veterans Adaptive Sports Winter Ski Program at Telluride CO, National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic at Snowmass Village CO, Gates of Lodore on the Green River in Colorado for whitewater rafting, Veterans Play Golf (a series of programs to teach adaptive golf and provide playing opportunities all year long) and Marine Recreational Therapy, a year-long program designed to provide adaptive water sports, boating, fishing, SCUBA diving and sailing to local area disabled veterans and hospitalized veterans requiring recreational therapy.
Sports Destination Management: Veterans Adaptive Sports was your brainchild. How did you come up with the idea?
Doug Tuttle: I worked for the Veterans Administration for 38 years but after working in one sports clinic, I realized there was so much more that could be done to help people. If veterans are hurt by losing the use of their legs, for example, we could teach them how to get from the bed to the wheelchair and how to move the wheelchair around. These sports programs teach them how to really live again; they teach more than a whole year in the V.A. They also show them the only thing holding them back is themselves. Now that I am retired, this is what I do.
SDM: There’s certainly more open to people with disabilities than there used to be.
Tuttle: We don’t want veterans to just quit everything, to sit around and get heavy. Before all these advances in technology and recreation and prosthetics, all they could do was play board games. Now, there are handcycles, sit skis for the snow and for waterskiing, all kinds of adaptive sports equipment. We want them to find things they enjoy doing and get back to them.
There are 20-some veterans who are killing themselves each day. We want to prevent them from feeling so down or feeling like their lives are over. Their lives aren’t over. We like to teach them it’s not about what you can’t do, it’s about what you CAN do. You just need to be led to it and shown how to do it.
SDM: What does Veterans Adaptive Sports do that people don’t expect?
Tuttle: A lot of things! We go to different places, like the Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic so they can learn to ski or snowboard – or learn to do it again, even after being hurt. I also create water sports events for the veterans to get involved in, including whitewater rafting and water skiing. In fact, when we did whitewater rafting on the Green River, we camped along the river every night. You’d think it was impossible with wheelchairs and soft ground, but we were able to manage. We’ve even had a blind person who went whitewater rafting. People might think that’s strange but that guy could feel the wind and the spray and the way the raft moved – and he really loved it. We’ll be taking a group to Moab to do some handcycling and explore the canyons next.
SDM: Is Veterans Adaptive Sports a year-round endeavor or is it seasonal?
Tuttle: Oh, it’s year-round. We keep busy throughout the year. We have a dive event coming up in the Florida Keys; in fact, we run monthly dive trips to South Florida. If you are disabled and want to dive, you need a special certification. We will pay for people to get that certification and we take them all out on the boat and everyone has a great time.
SDM: Do you serve one particular group of veterans, age-wise?
Tuttle: No – we’ll take anyone and everyone who wants to get involved. We have the guys who have recently served in Afghanistan and Iraq and we have people from World War II. In fact, I just took World War II veteran skiing. He was blind and he used to ski when he was younger – he loved finding out that he could do it again now that he’s 75.
SDM: Do you have anyone who develops into a competitive athlete as a result of this?
Tuttle: Oh, yes. In fact, we sponsored this one kid who is now in training for the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team. Kind of an interesting story – he had been involved in a munitions accident when he was preparing to go over to Afghanistan, and after that, he lost interest in things and really got involved in drinking and doing drugs. We got him out to a ski clinic and someone saw him and approached him and talked to him about going out for the Paralympics. He has since quit drinking and doing drugs, and now he’s in Aspen, training. He has really turned his life around.
SDM: How do you find the opportunities for the different sports you offer?
Tuttle: I have a lot of contacts in a lot of different areas. For example, with some of the ski events, I’ll work with Telluride Adaptive Sports. If we have housing donated to us, we can bring even more veterans in. I basically try to get an idea of what people like to do, then look for a way to make it happen.
SDM: You’re a hero to the veterans.
Tuttle: I’m just a guy who makes things happen. The donors are who keep us going. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, and people can use the link on our website to donate if they want.