STRIDE Program Provides Injured Veterans The Opportunity To Play Outdoor Sports At Jiminy Peak | Local News


Hancock – Don Tallman happily settles into his monoski and checks his balance on a freezing, busy Saturday at Jiminy Peak.

After five years of apprenticeship – starting with an instructor holding a lanyard – this army veteran knows what he’s doing, but his teacher jokingly tells him not to break the device. With Tallman on it, he once lost a piston on the mountain.

Tallman, 49, was never interested in skiing until he suffered severe nerve damage early in his tour of duty in Afghanistan which he said was related to breathing smoke from the military practice of use open combustion pits.

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Veterans Don Tallman, left, and Steve “Paycheck” Pechacek rode seated skis by their coaches during STRIDE’s annual Wounded Warriors Snow Festival at Jiminy Peak in Hancock.

But, Tallman’s condition helped change this former marathoner’s mind, and a Jiminy-friendly sports program allowed him to find a new way to have family fun.

“It was nice to be able to do that again,” said Tallman, of Glenville, NY. “I hate the cold and I hate the snow, and it took them three years to convince me to do it. But I fell in love with it the first day.

Those who convinced him are the volunteers and staff who STRIDE Adapted Sports Wounded Warrior Programs. STRIDE is a non-profit organization that helps veterans fight with adapted sports in winter and summer.

The group has satellite winter programs at Ski Sundown in New Hartford, Connecticut, and Catamount Mountain Resort in Hillsdale, NY, and teaches 18 different sports.

Through private donations, grants and fundraising, the group purchases ski equipment and covers all costs, said founder and CEO Mary Ellen Whitney, an expert in adaptive sports for more than three decades.

” They can come [ski] at any time, ”she said. “We pay.”

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Veteran Steve “Paycheck” Pechacek is assisted down the mountain on an adapted double ski by his trainer, Renee South, during STRIDE Adaptive Sports’ annual Wounded Warriors Snow Festival at Jiminy Peak in Hancock. The event, although significantly different from previous years due to COVID-19, brought together former STRIDE Adaptive Snowsports program veterans for a ski weekend tailored to their physical needs.

Veterans’ injuries can range from the most “invisible” like post-traumatic stress disorder, to physical, Whitney said.

“In the majority, you don’t see it, but they experience it every day,” she added.

Over the weekend, a group of 10 veterans and their families came to stay for the annual Wounded Warriors Snowfest, usually a big deal with a big party, but reduced this year due to COVID-19.

Each year, they are greeted by veterans at the entrance to the hotel in the ski area; This year was no different.

Many of the volunteers are wounded warriors themselves and in turn help other veterans as well as children and adults with special needs.

“After I left the military, I struggled, thinking, ‘So what’s my purpose in life now? “Said Kevin Binkley, 41, of Pittsfield, a longtime snowboarder who broke his skull while touring Iraq. and Afghanistan when his head “was slammed between two objects”.

Binkley, who said Soldier On, a Pittsfield-based nonprofit, had helped him cope with emotional suffering, is now volunteering for the STRIDE Adaptive Skiing program and says it’s a huge healing for him to teach people with disabilities.

“It gave me a new goal,” he said. “It’s a family to me.”

Ski instructor Kevin Woodbury told Binkley about the program when they first met at the supermarket.

Woodbury, who jokes with Tallman about when the piston came off the monoski, says the group is really like family in more ways than one. Woodbury’s son Tyler, 15, is skiing with the veterans so he can start teaching next year.

As Tallman and the others prepare to ski and ride, Whitney appeared with two US flags to face off on the slopes.

Everyone is beaming, and volunteer instructor Jonathan Baum, 67, of Great Barrington, is one. He discovered the group years ago when his son ran to Jiminy. He has been with STRIDE for two years and says it is a “great group of people”.

Baum prepares to instruct Roman Goddeau, 37, of Gansevoort, NY, who suffers from PTSD and other trauma from multiple explosions while touring as a machine gunner with the Marines in Iraq.

Goddeau said he’s always loved skiing, but it’s the group’s camaraderie and the shared experiences that help him heal.

Baum notes that adaptive teaching requires a “very high skill set” and equipment that will take him years to master.

Still, it looks like labor could heal Baum as well.

“It feels good to my heart,” he said.

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