In April 2006, while traveling to Iraq on an Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) mission, the plane Lt. Col Ted Moorman was traveling on crashed and the next thing he knew he was being airlifted to a trauma center in Delaware. With life threatening injuries, much like Humpty Dumpty, he was put back together again and then airlifted to Milwaukee so that he could begin his recovery closer to home. The final diagnosis was a spinal cord injury (L3) resulting in incomplete paraplegia.
The reality of the situation was that he would now spend most of his time in a wheelchair and could marginally hobble about a bit for short distances with a walker or canes. Life as he knew it, serving as an Air Force Reserve pilot and working for United Airlines as a captain was over.
Before his accident, Moorman led an active and had always been an avid skier. Eventually, he met with Joyce Casey and Sara Kucik, his recreation therapists from the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis., who would find a way for Moorman to become active again.
They suggested he come out to Snowmass, Colo., to participate in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. Initially he wqas very skeptical and nervous pointing out that he could barely stand up, and thus, how on earth could he possibly ski?
“I thought they were crazy,” Moorman said. “But their enthusiasm and persistence finally convinced me to give it a try.”
That first morning on Snowmass Mountain the sun shone brightly and the snow conditions were excellent. Moorman was terrified but went with his therapists to meet the two instructors for the first morning’s lesson.
“We helped Ted struggle into his heavy boots and steadied him as we helped him to the marshalling area, Casey said. “There we met with Steve Slater, a highly experienced ski instructor specializing in working with disabled students.”
Slater formulated a plan and tethered himself to Moorman to provide direction while a second instructor would work as the brakeman keeping him from careening out of control down the mountain.
“Their first run down the mountain was not easy to watch as Ted timidly moved downhill and immediately fell, again and again. As his coach I started to question myself and wondered if I had made a mistake in bringing him to the Clinic,” Casey said.
It was the anniversary of his plane crash and his therapists were worried they would be adding to his list of things that he could no longer do. Moorman and his instructors disappeared over a rise and down the mountain and Kucik and Casey went off to help our other students.
“He was on my mind all morning and we worried about him but focused on our other students that needed our immediate attention” Casey said. “We didn’t hear from Ted all day and hoped no news was good news. Finally, at the end of the day Ted did check in and in the most excited tone exclaimed, ‘I can do it … I can ski better than I can walk’.”
Moorman gained some confidence and finally convinced his instructors to cut him loose because he hated being tied up as that was not skiing as he knew it.
The most amazing thing happened on the mountain that day. Moorman flew down that mountain. “With the ski boots securing his ankles and the two ski poles replacing his canes he was actually able to ski rather proficiently, in fact, he skied like the old Ted,” Casey said.
Moorman is now a great skier and with the help of his instructor he was able to conquer the mountain that day and so much more.
“When I tell Veterans about the Winter Sports Clinic I tell them it is like by-pass surgery for your spirit. You can do it!” Casey said. “It reminds me of the MasterCard commercials, airfare 586 dollars, hotel 690 dollars, opportunity to conquer your own limitations … priceless!”