Retired Air Force Col. Michael F. Welch has been approached by so many overwhelmed veterans expressing their thanks that he finally has a way of dealing with it, which isn't to say he doesn't appreciate their gratitude. As overseer of the Department of Veterans Affairs' Paralympic program, Welch is plenty familiar with how difficult living through a life after service with a disability sustained in combat can be.
The Washington Post reported that, as the specialist in charge of the VA program, Welch is responsible for providing grants to sports that assist disable veterans, as well as getting stipends to those veteran athletes talented enough to attend international competitions like the Paralympics.
"They tell me, 'You don't know what you've done for my life,'" Welch relayed to The Post.
Adaptive sports allow veterans to exercise, build muscle, connect with their fellow brothers and sisters in arms, and perhaps most importantly, find a new role for themselves. Welch talked about some of the athletes had contemplated suicide before they found an answer in sports.
Welch told The Post about a blind Navy officer who has gone on to win medals in swimming, and four veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injury but are nonetheless on their way to represent the U.S. in soccer at the Paralympic games.
Some wounded veterans have taken their athletic exploits even further. Fox 13 in Salt Lake City reported how more than 80 wheelchair-using veterans have been given the chance to attend ski and snowboard camps at Park City Mountain Resort.
Coaches there will teach veterans to ski regardless of injury, hopefully instilling a new passion for the sport by adapting it to their physical requirements. Spending time with other veterans while doing it certainly doesn't hurt either.