As an Army ranger, dealing with stressful situations was just part of Mark Dunford's job. Switching from traditional skiing to the monoski was a challenge he didn't train for.
"I was riding my motorcycle to the post office and I got hit by a vehicle on the post, so I ended up having a spinal cord injury, about T 12 L1, which is around my waist level. So it's incomplete, so I can walk. I can use my legs a little bit and things like that. I was fortunate, very fortunate," said Mark Dunford, veteran and Adaptive Ski Program instructor.
The VA paid for his ski setup, and thanks to the volunteer instructors at the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program at Holiday Valley, Mark was able to continue a sport he loved prior to his accident.
"I was the first monoski in the program. He taught me how to ski and here I am 27 years later, and I'm an instructor in the program," said Dunford.
Bill Bredenberg, the Lounsbury Adaptive Ski Program associate director said, "We probably have in excess of 150 students with every kind of disability imaginable. As long as they can move their head or lean one way or another, they can help control the ski, so they can get a lot of enjoyment out of it."
The Adaptive Ski Program and the VA Western New York Healthcare system partnered Wednesday to offer veterans a free day of skiing, but it wasn't just about helping veterans with physical disabilities. It was also about helping veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the veterans are enrolled in the VA's PTSD program in Batavia.
"I really needed this because working on your PTSD is really tough, so skiing really kind of released a lot of frustration that I had," said Yajahira Durham, an Army veteran who served from 2004-2012 and did two and a half tours in Afghanistan.
Paul Thompson, who is also an Army veteran, served from 2007-2014 and deployed to Afghanistan. He said, "I didn't believe when other veterans or other people told me that it's OK to come out and tell us how you're feeling and what you're doing. I finally did, and it has made a world of difference. I feel like I live a functional life today because of it. To come out here and mingle with other veterans and be able to have that common bond is very special."
It was part of the VA's recreational therapy program, which is open to all veterans who receive VA services.
"A lot of times, you don't realize how hard you’re working to heal and get better and a lot of times, recreation is a tool for us to also feel better. Recreation therapy can be art. It can be music. It can be passive. It can be active. Every season, we have different programs that occur," said Pamela Kaznowski, VA WNY Recreation Therapy supervisor.