Pineland Farms Veterans Adaptive Sports and Training in action.

More doctors may be prescribing outdoor recreational therapy instead of Xanax if the proposed Federal legislation entitled the Outdoor Recreation Therapy for Veterans Act (HR 2435) passes. Studies are showing evidence that outdoor recreational activities can be therapeutic. I met Veterans Ray Gilmore and David Binford recently at a ski industry meeting, and they were engaging anyone who would talk with them about the Azimuth Check Foundation, which provides injured veterans and first responders challenging year-round athletic activities to create wellness in an atmosphere of camaraderie.

“Whether these vets have seen or unseen injuries, they can find peace in the outdoors,” they said. They feel that participation in activities such as alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, hiking, fishing, cycling, indoor rock climbing, wood carving and art, aquatics, golf, water skiing, stand up paddle-boarding, archery, and even bowling will build self-esteem and accomplishment.

Some veterans and first responders who have experienced visual impairments, amputations, and other physical and mental challenges have discovered organizations that orchestrate recreational activities, which can positively impact their well-being through adaptive recreation programs. Azimuth partners with other organizations such as the Veterans Adaptive Sports and Training, Adaptive Sports of the North Country, Ability Plus Adaptive Sports, Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports, and Northeast Passage.

Misha Pemble-Belkin of Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports’ Veterans Ventures program commented, “I’ve taken anti-depressants and done talk therapy but nothing I tried has worked. It was like my brain was still at war.” Different than working with healthcare providers in an office setting, this real world/real time approach to creating solutions for active and engaged living takes the guess work out of what happens when you go home or are discharged from care.

Gilmore talked about difficulty “shutting the motor off whereby the adrenaline remains and has become toxic.” The recreational activities help to create new memories and meaningful relationships. Beside physical challenges, many vets are faced with post traumatic stress (PTSD). While a stigma may remain about this condition, more veterans are now acknowledging it and seeking help.

Some of these program participants express that they’ve have had enough of meds and therapy Recreational programs can stimulate problem solving, collaboration, camaraderie, relevant and meaningful goals, as well as develop sustainable healthy behavior.

One vet referred to taking “meds” which made him feel like a “zombie” and took away the passion and joy of life. That vet commented that participating in recreational programs and outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, rock climbing has helped to re-instill periods of passion and joy in his life.

How does it work?

At Northeast Passage, a recreation therapist (RT) meets with an individual to complete an initial assessment.  The RT talks about health conditions, interests, personal strengths, and local resources.  They will also use standardized assessment tools as part of a collaborative process to identify goals, and a plan for achieving them, while working together.

In follow up appointments, the vet and RT are in the community actively engaged in recreation. At the same time, they’ll likely be creating community connections, learning about equipment, developing skills, and aspects of themselves that support continued active participation and a healthier experience.

Kristina Sabasteansk,i an Army Veteran, runs programs at Pineland Farms’ Veterans Adaptive Sports & Training in southern Maine, which offers year-round programming for vets with disabilities. She said, “Last year we took veterans and volunteers to Maine Huts and Trails in Kingsfield, ME. It was -9 F the day we left to go home, and there wasn’t a single complaint among the group. Sometimes the vets crave challenges similar to what they experienced in the military such as harsh winter conditions and strenuous activities.

Pineland Farm’s yearly Biathlon Camp had 16 Veterans with disabilities – ranging from SCI, amputations, TBI, blindness, PTSD and TBI, and other orthopedic issues. “Many had never even seen snow before the camp and by the last day they cross country skied and competed in a biathlon race against each other. These trips and activities with fellow Vets allow them to share their experiences in the military and they realize they are not alone in their struggles.”

Retired SSG Misha Pemble-Belkin of Vermont Adaptive Veteran had 170 vet participants for more than a thousand activities including winter sports such as skiing, XC skiing, and snowboarding. “It’s vets helping vets to learn these sports.” According to Pemble-Belkin, “There was a study of 1,200 Vets who were split into a group taking three of the major meds and a group taking a placebo, and it showed similar results. While the war experience was stored in your brain, outdoor recreation can provide some joy and passion that is a relief to the miserable times being home alone or unengaged.”

For more info:

Azimuth Check Foundation: [email protected]

Pineland Farms VAST Program in southern Maine with Kristina Sabasteanski [email protected]

Northeast Passage in NH with David Lee [email protected]

Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports Veterans Ventures with Misha Pemble-Belkin [email protected]

2 Comments

  1. I am using cross-country skiing rigs from a grant Co authored by the USA Paralympic Nordic team coodinator Beth Ann Chamberlain and Operation Rebound at Kirkwood Crosscountry facility where I work as an adaptive certified ski instructor

  2. I invite you and any other similar Vet program to customize my article and use it to garner publicity about your program.

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