National Wounded Warrior Center represented at USO Annual Gala 2015, San Diego, CA


Suzanne Baracchini (DSES Communications Director), Jerry Buckley (Capital Campaign Consultant), June and Neil Ash, and Betty Walker at USO Annual Gala, 2015, San Diego, CA [Photo courtesy of Vincent Andrunas]

USO San Diego – 74th Anniversary Stars and Stripes Gala,
Manchester Grand Hyatt, San Diego, CA

Recently, Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra had the opportunity to meet a number of community leaders in San Diego who are active with the local USO (United Service Organizations) program.  Suzanne Baracchini, Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) director of communications and Jerry Buckley, capital campaign consultant attended the USO’s annual Stars & Stripes gala and discussed the National Wounded Warrior Center, a DSES program, with many  of the very dedicated people who were at the event, including board members, civic and business leaders as well as local philanthropists, Neil and June Ash. The nation’s largest USO facility is at San Diego International Airport and is named in honor of Neil for his most generous gift to the USO.

Nichelle Medina of CBS News 8, San Diego emceed, and the 600-plus attendees enjoyed a formal presentation of colors and a mini-concert of service anthems by the ultrasharp Marine Band San Diego. The event honored Sempra Energy executive Jessie Knight Jr. for building strong collaborations between local business and military leadership; Jim Zortman (Navy vice admiral, ret.) and the Northrop Grumman Employee Network for ongoing support of military families; and wounded warrior Nicholas Kimmel (Marine sergeant, ret.) for his exemplary service and indomitable spirit after losing both legs and his left arm in an explosion in Afghanistan.

To learn more about USO San Diego and their Annual Gala Click Here



Operation High Altitude, Wounded Warrior Camp, Mammoth Lakes, CA 2015



Ryan and his service dog, Docker, set up camp at McGee Creek

Day 1: Five days prior, the participants either arrived by a chartered vehicle from a military base in Southern California or by aircraft, which flies into Mammoth via LAX. It is suggested to register with TSA Cares if you need assistance at the airport. I personally arrived a little behind schedule on Monday. I missed the initial camp setup and opted to go straight to Mammoth Lakes Fire Station #1 for the BBQ Dinner. It was a great environment to meet the involved people and it also gave me a comfortable atmosphere to relax in after a day of travel.

After dinner, everyone headed to McGee to settle in for the night. Making camp after dinner was not an issue! I had to borrow a tent, ground pad, sleeping bag and pillow from Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES), which was already setup for me in an ideal location within our campground. There are about 15 other tents setup with the large location. There are restroom facilities very nearby, which are accessible.

The main DSES Tent, large dinning area, is just across a small gravel road and adjacent to several stocked trout ponds. Breakfast is usually brought in by “The Breakfast Club,” but there is always plenty of snacks and drinks inside the tent. The site is overlooked by a mountain range, which was engulfed in clouds and was left snowcapped near the end of the week.

I sleep with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Machine, which requires electrical power. Several extension cords were strung out to my site to help me out. I also brought a power strip, which was a convenient location to charge cell phones!   Although I must warn you that cell phone coverage is spotty at best within camp! I brought along my black lab service dog, Docker, who loves the outdoors, and he did not create any issues throughout the week. He quickly adapted to tent life and DSES staff or volunteers were more than happy to look after him while I was busy on the mountain. Our site was also right next to McGee Creek, which gave me a beautiful melody to fall asleep to.

Day 2: The second day of Operation High Altitude started out with a trip to Convict Lake, which is a mountain lake that is nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. I was paired with several DSES Members and kayaked across the lake and back. I also decided to purposefully flip over the kayak to personally validate to water’s temperature reading. Yup, it was a bit chilly. I would put it in the 40-50 degree range.

After our time on the water, we were off to the Convict Lake Resort for lunch. The Resort made us some tasty pizza, which fueled us for fly fishing that afternoon, but first we received some hands-on instructions and tips. We then boarded the DSES chartered bus and headed to the trout ponds at our campsite. Now, it was up to us to put those newly gained skills to the test and catch dinner! We ate our bounty the following evening so that night’s feast was specially made for us by a renowned chef. We had lasagna, salad, and garlic bread. Oh, was it delicious! Capping the night off with s’mores by the campfire was a perfect way to end the evening!

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Ryan rolls out for some cycling from Shady Rest Park


Day 3: The third day was the earliest morning, rightfully so! We were up and headed out of camp by 0700 to meet our Fishing Guides on Crowley Lake. It is a large reservoir that is also known for its trout fishing. The largest fish ever caught here was a Brown Trout weighing 26 pounds! We met our guides and boarded the boats to troll the lake. My boat caught 7 trout that morning. We released most of them, but kept a select few for dinner that night. After fishing, we headed over to Shady Rest Park for a great lunch which was made by VFW Post 8988; another wonderful meal to give us that extra edge.

We were already in a prime location to do some cycling. Mammoth Lakes has a great paved trail network for bike riding that offers great views of the Yosemite like terrain! After the great ride it was back to camp for a Service Dog presentation by Todd Young of Canine Companions For Independence (CCI). Todd gave a very informative presentation, which hopefully opened the veterans’ eyes to the useful assistance and truly professional quality of dogs that CCI provides.

After the conclusion of the presentation, it was time to load up on Omega 3! The fish was beautifully prepared with lemon juice and spices, although it still had that very natural flavor, and there was pizza for those not wanting try some Mammoth Lake’s most popular aquatic mammal. That was a wrap for Day 3, unless anyone wanted to gather up at the campfire.

Sierra Mountain Guides outfitted us all with climbing gear and helped us climb up a rock face down the mountain the next day. This climb had an awesome view of the Eastern Sierra’s at the top! I had been climbing there before, but the weather conditions and mentorship [sic] were ideal. That easily helped to make it an excellent day! Watching everyone climb, including an amputee, empowered me and help push me to climb to the top which then only made me feel even more confident in my own physical abilities! Our on-site lunch was provided by Silver Lake Resort.

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He left some skin on the rock face, but Ryan took his climbing skills to new heights

After lunch we could climb again, hike or bike. I personally chose to lay low. I donated a little skin to Mammoth Lakes and expended a bit of energy hauling myself up the rock face. Plus, I had to conserve my energy for the fabled “Hootenanny.”

A little rain didn’t stop the party back at camp. We shifted the party from a large open area to the main DSES Tent. Angel’s grilled some great food and a live banjo made it a true Hootenanny! This is something that you probably wouldn’t encounter in your normal activities in life, so it just shows you that a good time can be had outside your comfort zone!

Day 4: The last day was a mix of activities. The SoCal group headed out on their road trip home, while the remainder of the group suited up for some pool time. We spent about 2 hours horsing around in the water until we were forced out by the threat of lightening from the approaching storm clouds. We quickly changed and headed over to a bowling alley. However, we made a quick stop at a local coffee shop for a warm beverage.

We arrived at the complex and our group took over the last three lanes. I chose to bowl without the handicap ramp thingy. Yeah, that didn’t go so well. Me, I wasn’t competing with anyone but myself and I managed to have a good time.

My unintentionally routine gutter ball maneuvers only made everyone else’s throws look that much better. Ah, the glass is always half full. We played 2 or 3 games and then headed off to the Mammoth Airport.

Check-in at the aeropuerto was quick and painless. Shorty there after, everyone boarded the plane which was destine for LAX, and connecting flights were taken from there.

This ended Operation High Attitude. This is something that I seriously look forward to each year. Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra has a saying: “If I can do this, I can do anything.”

I never put much stock into this until recently. This past week helped to strengthen my body in safe environment with activities that I thoroughly enjoyed. I will put this boost in both physical and mental strength to good use! I already miss Mammoth Lakes and can’t wait for the next DSES event. I have such a high after something like this that’s hard to find elsewhere!

Written by: Ryan Sykes, DSES Guest Blogger & DSES Athlete

We are thrilled to have Ryan as our newest guest blogger. Ryan draws upon his experience from writing intelligence assessments and target packages in the military.  He took English Comp classes in rehab after his injury and more recently took Speech and several Psychology classes. Look for more of Ryans blogs coming soon………….

If you are interested in guest blogging for DSES please contact Suzanne Baracchini at

Volunteer End of Season Awards


Be sure to congratulate Amy Ambellan on winning this year’s Volunteer of the Year Award! And no, her hair really isn’t that red.

DSES’s annual Volunteer End of Season Awards, held on Saturday, May 23, at Tom & Hilary Schroeder’s home, reminded us once more how vitally important our volunteers are to the success of DSES’s programs. We couldn’t do it without all of you.

During the evening, recognitions were given out to several volunteers:

Gourmet Goddesses: Leslie Markovitz, Jeff Frome (the Gourmet God), Tomoko Jost, Randee Levin, Hilary Schroeder (and her neighbor, Linda) and Laura Janoff.

Office Assist: Quart Keyes, Lori May, Laura Beardsley, Randee Levin, Hilary Schroeder, Deb Frievalt, Tomoko Jost. Special recognition to Dianne Crunk and Kate Page, who work really hard behind the scenes to keep our database in such great shape.

Excellence in Volunteerism: Ross Aronson, Jeff Frome, Carlynn Dutton, Randee Levin, Laura Janoff, Carolyn Escoto and Hilary Schroeder.

Rookie of the Year: Nora Urdi

Instructor of the Year: Jae Lee


Volunteer of the Year: AMY AMBELLAN!

Athlete Profile: Nate Gratz

Nate Gratz, a long time Bishop local, was referred to us early during his rehabilitation process. He was in recovery from a cervical spinal cord injury, which resulted in quadriplegia. He came to our weekly cycling group to learn about sport opportunities available to him in his new life. On his first session, we introduced him to hand cycling and he introduced us to one of the biggest smiles of joy we’d ever seen! Nate and the staff and volunteers of DSES have learned a lot together, and forged strong, enduring friendships.

Nate is a father, husband and son in an amazing family! He and his family run an established business in Bishop and are very active in the community. Nate has become an advocate and role model for people with disabilities. Since that first day on the hand cycle, he has become a truly dedicated athlete with a strict training schedule, and continually sets and meets new goals. Last year his athletic milestones were riding in DSES’s Sierra Cycle Challenge in July and achieving a personal best of 20 miles. He beat this a month and a half later by riding 30+ miles in the High Sierra Fall Century and again the following October by riding 40+ miles in the Fallon Century! This year’s goals (after conquering the Sierra Cycle Challenge once again) are to ride 70 miles in the High Sierra Fall Century and to complete all 100 miles of the Fallon Century.

In addition to all of his cycling, Nate started cross-country skiing this winter and participated in a dry land biathlon. As an accomplished hunter and marksman, the sport of biathlon holds great appeal and presents a whole new challenge. Nate’s wife, Amber, and son, William, came out to learn cross-country skiing as well. We hope to see them all skiing together a lot next year.

With his incredible determination, charisma and athleticism and his amazing friends and family… I anticipate seeing him on the podium soon in hand-cycling races across the country! This summer look for Nate and his son William out on the road cycling behind their enormous grins!

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Nate Gratz is also an ace paddle boarder as well as a great cyclist!

GO NATE! And thank you for being such an inspiration and amazing role model for us all.

Winter Paralympic Sport Camp Wrap Up


No Mammoth Biathlon didn’t mean no Biathlon Camp. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area groomed nice terrain along Minaret Vista for the Biathlon Camp activities.

This was another great year of Paralympic Sport Camps! We had 39 participants with physical and/or visual disabilities join us for training and competitions in our Nordic, Alpine, Mono and Biathlon Camps. These camps each incorporated skiing skill and fitness training as well as competition opportunities for athletes of all levels. Military and civilian athletes of all ages join in for these fun and incredibly supportive sessions.

It is a joy to see the cheers and competitive spirits flowing as athletes tackle hills or obstacle courses while learning the challenges and thrill of their sport of choice. World-class coaches from across the country including US Paralympic medalists and former US Olympic team members guided their progress.

We had a few challenges with weather this year, from flights being turned around in heavy storms to the Mammoth Lakes Biathlon being cancelled for the first time ever due to lack of snow. None of this stopped our camps or dampened our athletes’ determination and enthusiasm for Paralympic Sport. Those who were turned around due to weather, called to ask how soon they could return to train with us. Athletes in the Biathlon Camp were challenged by more competitive opportunities than usual as our coaches reached creative heights in designing alternative racing and training situations during this camp.

We are all looking forward to an equally successful summer of Parlaympic sport training opportunities. Watch our calendar for opportunities to participate in these fun events!

Tiffany Titus – DSES: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

This ski season learning with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra has proven to be better than anything I could ever imagine it would be. As I write this, I skied 40 days this season, the vast majority of which were with DSES. Now, 40 days is a pretty respectable number for someone with a season pass in a normal year, but did I mention this is 40 days for someone who broke their back and had to relearn to walk not even two years ago? I still can’t wrap my head around it at times, especially the fact that I’m alive and walking again, and I’m the one living it!

This past December, I started skiing with DSES. I remember my first weekend of lessons with Mark and Carolyn, all of my time spent on Lower Road Runner, and Sesame Street West and Sesame Street East. I’m not sure if I was more scared of falling while skiing those trails super slowly, or just being on a ski lift again. (FYI, I broke my back in a freak, icy ski lift fall). Regardless, I was still thrilled to be skiing again. During the course of this season, which brought me to DSES practically every weekend, I went from Mammoth Mountain’s easiest terrain to lapping Face of Three, Fascination and skiing off-piste! Oh, and did I mention I spent time riding chair lifts and skiing by myself too?! For me that’s HUGE!!

I’ll admit, there were plenty of times I was scared to death – just ask Carolyn or Carlynn about my looks of panic, but there were also so many huge smiles and tears of joy. Maggie experienced this first hand at the bottom of Patrolmen’s on the two year mark of the accident! There were so many memorable experiences, fun times, and friends made this season working with DSES. Now that ski season is winding down as Mammoth closes this weekend, I’m still blown away by the progress I’ve made in one season. Looking back on this season, I can honestly say that skiing with DSES has been the best thing that has happened to me since breaking my back. I can’t thank everyone there enough for everything and helping me get that piece of my life back that was missing.

Tiffany conquers Patrolmen’s on her second “Ouchiversary!”


Winter Season Wrap Up!

Even with California in its fourth year of drought, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s expert grooming crews raised their already high standard of excellence again. MMSA’s snowmaking and maintenance, along with lots of bluebird, spring-like days, made lesson demand high, giving us an exceptional winter season.

Some of our events saw record numbers of athletes attending. On the down side, we sadly had to cancel Springtacular, due to lack of viable terrain.

All things considered, we were still able to do an impressive amount of lessons in a very challenging snow season, which illustrated the dedication and high level of training of our volunteers, and the need for our services. In addition, our successful fundraising efforts allow us to continue to provide scholarships for approximately 40% of our students.

DSES Intern Kelly and VI Student Kristina rock the snow on one of our awesome lessons this season!

DSES Intern Kelly and VI Student Kristina rock the snow on one of our awesome lessons this season!


DSES Staff Instructors Emily Estremo and Nic Vandyke both achieved certifications this past winter!

DSES Staff Instructors Emily Estremo and Nic Vandyke both achieved certifications this past winter!

Several Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra staff and volunteers achieved new certifications this winter season, including:

Ross Aronson (Level 1 Alpine), Jaclyn Zamudio (Level 1 Alpine), Intern Josh Pighetti (Level 1 Alpine), Andrew Rea (Level 1 Alpine), Christine Platt (Level 2 Alpine Ski), Tom Mazaitis (Nordic XC L1 Prep & Exam), Elsa Hansen (Nordic XC L1 Prep & Exam), Gregory Merena (Nordic XC L1 Prep & Exam), Cindy Stern (Nordic XC L1 Prep & Exam), Maggie Palchak (Nordic XC L2 Prep), Sue Mehrhof (Nordic XC L2 Prep), Emily Estremo (Alpine Level 2 Teach & Adaptive Level 1 Mono Ski), Jae Lee (Alpine Level 2 Teach), Paul Bissel (Adaptive Level 1 Mono Ski), Nick Vandyke (Adaptive Level 1 Cognitive), Pat Sequeira (Adaptive Level 1 Cognitive), John Blaustein (Adaptive Level 1 Cognitive), Frazier Edwards (Level 1 Alpine) and Alexandre Browner (Children Specialist 2).

All these certifications are eligible for reimbursement of testing fees via our “Baribault Boost” program, generously funded by the Baribault family, which helps support staff and volunteers who have passed their certifications. Baribault Boost awards are presented each fall.

Fund-y You Should Ask…

DSES Winter Fundraising Events Revealed


L-R: DSES Associate Director Cara Leonard, Executive Director Kathy Copeland, Paralympic Sports Coordinator Maggie Palchak and Guest Services & Summer Events Manager Laurel Martin costume it up during Island Extravaganza!

At DSES we love to put the “Fun” into fundraising! Our two big fundraisers, Island Extravaganza in December and Spring Expo in April, were great successes this year. We count on these two events to provide between 10% and 20% of our operating budget, and this year did not disappoint. We are so incredibly grateful to all of the volunteers and donors who make these events so successful.

Island Extravaganza:

Mardi Gras Mammoth Style made a comeback this year at Island Extravaganza – featuring music by Gator Nation and costumes by the community of Mammoth Lakes! Showcasing the best raffle and silent auction in town, Island Extravaganza also tempted partygoers with the famous Gator Swamp – a top end raffle for a chance at a Lake Tahoe getaway. 

Spring Expo

Combining an Individual fundraising campaign and outreach, Spring Expo brings people together to raise money and awareness. Our committed team of individual fundraisers raised more than $30,000! All of the money raised in this campaign supports our scholarship program, funds adaptive equipment, provides programs Paralympic athletes and much, much more. Thank you so much to all of our fundraisers AND to all of our donors. You really do make recreation possible for everyone!! 

Spring Expo also boasts a popular demo tent where everyone can learn about our program and try out our equipment. People tried ski-bikes, bi-skis and mono-skis, and with Executive Director Kathy Copeland on the mic, and twisting music and cotton candy, this was the place to be on April 4!

Spring Expo Kids Cotton Candy

Kids got to sample yummy cotton candy during Spring Expo!


Grants Are Going Great!

This winter DSES received $97,000 from a variety of granting agencies to fund athlete participation in our adaptive sports program.

The majority of funding came from the Department of Veteran Affairs who helped us bring in 55 unique Wounded Warriors to a variety of winter sport camps and opportunities. We will also continue to use this grant funding for our summer programing.

Disabled Sports USA has also been a larger grantor, specifically for participants with Spinal Cord Injuries. Plus, we recently received funding from the Employee’s Community Foundation of the Boeing Corporation to purchase a Nissin Mono Ski for the next winter season.

We have already started grant applications for next year and expect great things to come!