Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra and its annual Wounded Warriors Summer Camp, Operation High Altitude, found themselves on Cloud Nine the week of June 1-5. The camp celebrated its ninth year with great weather, lots of fun and adventures, and therapeutic, life-empowering activities for all.
DSES was host to 30 participants, including 20 Warriors, as well as 10 staff and families, including Korean War veteran Roy and his wife, Carole, and a reunion of four veterans who hadn’t seen each other since they served together in Vietnam. One Warrior and his wife came from as far away as the Philippines.
Ryan and service dog Docker settle in at McGee Creek Campground for a week of Operation High Altitude!
After the group settled in at the McGee Creek RV Park and Campground on Monday afternoon, they were treated to a welcome dinner, hosted by the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department. This semi-annual tradition helps break the ice and puts the Wounded Warriors at ease while they settle in for the week.
Members of the community all came together to provide incredible food, sports equipment and guiding services to ensure a fabulous week of sport activities for our military athletes.
The group spent Tuesday morning on Convict Lake kayaking with Mammoth Kayaks, and paddling, including use of DSES’s OnIt Ability wheelchair-accessible Standup Paddleboard.
The water was glassy, the weather was tranquil and warm, and a bald eagle was spotted observing the adventures from overhead! Everyone from ages 4 to 80+ got out on the water! What’s not to like?! Tuesday afternoon, the group took part in fly-fishing lessons, with coaching from several local professional fishing guides. At the crack of dawn Wednesday, the Warriors headed out on the waters of Crowley Lake and out at the Arcularius Ranch to put their fly-fishing lessons to use. Many fish were caught and fish stories abounded, including one from Roy, who pulled in four of the fish destined for Wednesday’s evening’s fish fry.
Sklar (left) and wife Pauline were a Tandem Team on DSES’s new side-by-side Tandem Bike!
After wrapping up their morning on the water, the group relocated to Mammoth’s Shady Rest Park for an afternoon of cycling. Several athletes rode mountain bikes, while others went out on some of DSES’s fleet of adaptive cycles, including one of our newest acquisitions: a side-by-side tandem bike! Dirt trails and paved bike paths were explored for several hours before the exhausted athletes returned to camp for some R&R and campfire chats.
On Thursday, the campers headed north for a day of rock climbing overlooking scenic June Lake. Everyone was able to experience the challenges of rock climbing. Opportunities ranged from top rope pitches with varying degrees of difficulty to a modified Tyrolean traverse, which could be done solo or with assistance.
Later that night, the annual Hootenanny party was a huge success, even with a little bit of rain. Singalongs and storytelling and songs, from cowboy poet Larry Maurice and Bishop musician Derik Olson, kept spirits high and dry.
Phil Torie with Department of Veterans Affairs in Monterey brought two veterans to this year’s camp. “As a VA staff clinician, to have my vets invited to participate in DSES’s adaptive sports therapies really brought out the best from a couple of my guys who have been sitting out life,” Torie commented. “They moved from survival mode to thriving. They’ll be part of DSES’s extended family, and go seek out other big-hearted organizations, camps, events and fundraisers to give back.” Vets, Torie added, are typically reluctant to receive, but when they do, they want to give back. “I’m hooked,” Navy veteran Ron said about DSES’s Wounded Warrior programs. “I’m moving on into the world now. I’m mentoring other vets who are sitting on the sidelines wondering what they’re going to do with their lives.”
Navy veteran Queenie said she liked the social camaraderie and being with other like-minded Wounded Warriors, adding the camp reduced her anxiety. Gileen, another Navy veteran, said likened the camp’s supportive atmosphere to “the kind that makes up a family.” She said more confidence was her big takeaway from the week, especially climbing. “I couldn’t believe I rock climbed, but I did it,” she gushed. “I wouldn’t be who I am today without programs like this.” Like Ron, Gileen is “paying it forward,” volunteering her time helping other vets at the VA, which “never gave up” on her.
One Wounded Warrior commented the camp was the best time they’d had in 20 years, and everyone raved about the quality (and quantity!) of the food. Returning Warrior David didn’t want the camp to end Friday morning. “You know, my parents divorced when I was quite young. And when I went to my dad’s and it was time to leave, I’d get this incredibly sad feeling. I’m having that same sad feeling now.” Still, many campers left with new bonds to some of their fellow warriors. In addition to healing, one of our goals is to see them make friendships that will last after the camp. DSES’s Wounded Warrior winter camp, Operation Mountain Freedom, is set for February 1-5, 2016.
A Wounded Warriors/Volunteers/Staff “group selfie,” if there is such a thing, at Shady Rest Park!
Thank you to all of the wonderful people and businesses who made this event fabulous!
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Eastern Sierra Transit Authority, Bishop VFW Post 8988, McGee Creek RV Park & Campground, Mammoth Kayaks, Breakfast Club – Sue Ebersold, Pita Pit – Doug Hannah, Mammoth Kayaks, Mammoth Disposal, Inc., Eastside Bakery, Mammoth Lakes Fire Department – Chief Frank Frievalt and his crew, Arcularius Ranch and the Gottwald family – Scott, Lee, Gina, Fred & Karen, Convict Lake Resort, Silver Lake Resort, Whitmore Pool, Town of Mammoth Lakes, Mammoth Rock ‘N Bowl, Crowley Lake Fish Camp, Crowley Lake General Store, Canine Companions for Independence, Eastern Sierra Fishing Guides Association, Sierra Mountain Guides, Larry Maurice, Derik Olson, Angel’s Restaurant, Footloose Sports, Mammoth Mountaineering Supply, Sue Morning and Katie Morning-Hylen, Neubauer-Jennison, Inc., and all of our DSES volunteers who are the backbone of the program!
This program was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Photos: Sue Morning and Katie Morning-Hylen