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Veterans Compete in 2014 Winter Paralympic Games

Paralympic athletes from Team USA carry the US flag, smiling and waving

Team USA enters the stadium during the 2014 Paralympic Games opening ceremonies in Sochi, Russia.

by Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Of the 74 United States athletes at the Paralympic Games in Sochi, 18 of them are military Veterans and Servicemembers.

For these Veterans, the road to Sochi has been filled with a renewed sense of freedom, independence and determination. They are an inspiration and a dramatic example of the capabilities of the human body and mind, even after tremendous trauma.

Here is a brief introduction to just three of these remarkable Veterans.

Chris Devlin-Young

Chris Devlin-Young’s first Paralympic Winter Games appearance was in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, where he earned a gold medal in slalom. At the Lillehammer Games, he competed as a “four-tracker” using two skis and outriggers. In 2002 in Salt Lake City, he won a gold medal in super-G and a silver medal in downhill as a mono-skier.

He was the first Paralympian in history to medal in two different disability classes. Devlin-Young also earned silver in Torino in 2006. He narrowly missed the podium in Vancouver, taking a fourth-place finish in super-G. He came back and claimed gold in that same discipline at the 2010 Alpine Skiing World Championships.

While serving in Alaska with the Coast Guard in 1982, a plane crash completely paralyzed Devlin-Young from the knees down and partially paralyzed him below his waist. At the first National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic and in keeping with his personal promise to give back, he coached the first race development camp for injured Veterans.

Devlin-Young says he has “dedicated himself to learning all he could about disabled skiing and teaching that knowledge to others.”

Devlin-Young has been inducted into the California Sports Hall of Fame.

Omar Bermejo

Omar Bermejo joined the United States Marine Corps at age 17 and was injured in a motorcycle accident in June 2008, shortly after returning from his fourth deployment in Iraq. His arm was amputated at the shoulder. Bermejo went through a depression after the amputation and it was a visit to a VA Medical Center that he met other Veterans in his condition that convinced him not to give up on himself.

At a rehabilitation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., four months after his amputation, Bermejo put on cross-country skis for the first time and fell in love with the sport.

Bermejo is a resident athlete at the Wood River Ability Program (Paralympic Sport Club Ketchum) in Sun Valley, Idaho. He also spent time training last summer with the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou, Maine.

Jen Lee

Sergeant Jen Lee had his left leg amputated above the knee after a motorcycle accident in 2009. He was introduced to sled hockey by “Operation Comfort,” an organization dedicated to assisting injured U.S. service personnel at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Lee was a member of the San Antonio Rampage sled hockey club, which is made up entirely of military athletes, from 2009-13. He is now a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program unit out of Fort Carson, Colo., and is stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Lee hopes to attend Stanford University to study athletic training. He is a lifelong athlete, having played varsity basketball and he helped his high school track and field team to two district titles. Sergeant Jen Lee is currently on active duty with the United States Army.

More Information for Veterans and their families

For information on all the Veterans at the games, read their bios here.

You can check out all the results from the games here.

Many Veteran paralympians started their road to Sochi by attending the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic co-sponsored by VA and Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

The VA Adaptive Sports programs help renew a sense of purpose and excitement for disabled Veterans across the country. If you know a disabled Veteran, please encourage them to explore opportunities with adaptive sports programs in their area through the VA’s Adaptive Sports Club Finder or contact the Adaptive Sports Office at (202) 632-6960.