NEWS | March 25, 2022

Soldiers at Walter Reed SRU Take on the Snowy Slopes

By Jyremy Reid Army

Winter’s end is fast approaching. However, during its peak, Soldiers at the Walter Reed Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in Bethesda, Maryland took the opportunity to shred some snowy slopes.

Although the snowboarding and skiing season started moderately warm, nature finally delivered a couple of snow days so the Soldiers could experience a different kind of adventure. The SRU kicked off 2022 with its first skiing and snowboarding outing of the season at a resort in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.

Activities like adaptive snow sports are meaningful for the Soldiers because they can’t easily access these sports due to several circumstances like cost and location. As the weather permits, Soldiers travel to the lodge every Thursday where they gear up and receive individual lessons for skiing, snowboarding and seated skiing. Program directors, specialists and staff work hard to create a safe and enjoyable environment for all ability levels.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how many of [the Soldiers] plan to return because, statistically, more than half the people that try skiing or snowboarding don’t return a second time,” said Brett Thomas, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the SRU.

The Soldiers have access to adaptable equipment at the resort and receive lessons based on the level of the Soldiers’ needs and disabilities. The equipment may look different, but they offer injured individuals a new chance at adventure every year. People who may otherwise be left behind when friends and family take on the slopes can also enjoy the fun by using special rail-like devices, ski-bottom crutches and tethers.

Instructors are trained in adaptive equipment and skills-based techniques, as well as specific disabilities and how to effectively support each Soldier. Thanks to these trained instructors as well as the availability of suitable apparatus, all Soldiers of all abilities can participate.

These arctic activities have become very popular among many of the participants. Thomas said she sees the Soldiers enjoying themselves and has heard them describe this as their favorite experience so far since being in the unit.

“It was one of the best activities I’ve attended during my time at Walter Reed,” said Sgt. Roman Vstryetyentsev. “I typically ski, but I had lots of fun finally learning a little bit about how to snowboard. The instructors were very professional and friendly.”

Over time, the Soldiers build tenacity and self-satisfaction that usually carries over into other areas of their lives. All of these components are extremely helpful in the recovery process.

“This was my first time snowboarding and I really enjoyed it,” said Spc. Emery Zepeda. “My instructor was very friendly, nice, easy going and precise with instructing me. It definitely was a great experience for my first time!”

Once any limitation is overcome, it’s only a matter of time before the desire to improve in other techniques makes an entrance. Additionally, the coaches are cultivating a culture of trust and strong bonds with the Soldiers because of these factors.

Staff Sgt. John Sokolowski III loved that his coach showed him complete trust as his riding partner. He said the training is “challenging” and the objectives have helped improve his skill level. “Best of all, he leaves all of those choices up to me,” he added. “I feel safe and empowered in that format.”

The skiing and snowboarding program will run as long as weather conditions allow. When summer hits, the SRU plans to continue with new activities for its cycling and water skiing programs.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Visit our website at https://www.arcp.army.mil