Category Archives: News

National Wounded Warrior Center Searching for New Home

Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra committed to providing facility to support veterans with disabilities

David and Juice cycling during DSES’s Operation High Altitude. (Photo: DSES Collection)
Mammoth Lakes, California – September 9, 2020 – Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) has announced that it will find a new location for its planned National Wounded Warrior Center. With contributions and commitments of $11.7 million, DSES has made tremendous progress in securing support to create a National Wounded Warrior Center in Mammoth Lakes. The new facility will offer veterans with disabilities the resources and knowledge they need to return to civilian life with confidence, hope, and skills to find successful employment and build strong families. While the project, originally planned for construction on Mammoth Lakes Foundation land near Cerro Coso Community College, finds itself in search of a new location, DSES embraces the change of plans as an opportunity to enhance its vision for the Center.
“Of course we are disappointed by the news that the MLF land is no longer available to us,” says DSES Executive Director Kathy Copeland, “especially as this sort of facility and expanded programming is needed now more than ever. We are reaching out to our generous donors and partners to inform them of this change, and our largest donor has recommitted their support and encouragement to create the Center. This is an opportunity to align the facility and programs with another location to help our heroes thrive.”
In a decision announced last Friday, the Mammoth Lakes Foundation applauded the outstanding programming offered by DSES and praised the “honorable merit” of the proposed National Wounded Warrior Center, but ultimately determined they would not provide the land for the project.
DSES appreciates the support of its donors and the Mammoth Lakes community for the proposed facility and stresses that addressing the needs of wounded warriors and veterans with disabilities has been, and remains, a top priority for the organization. Over time, veterans’ needs have shifted, requiring more programs to help overcome conditions such as PTS and depression. Prior to Covid-19, DSES planned to expand its current military sports programs by offering new one-week programs that were slated to begin this fall. The organization now hopes to be able to start the new programs early next year and will continue spearheading plans for the National Wounded Warrior Center
“Internally, we are assessing opportunities to enhance the vision of the National Wounded Warrior Center in a new location,” says Copeland. “We welcome community input and ideas as we forge ahead.”
Media contact: Laura Beardsley, Deputy Director, Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra,, 760.934.0791

Mountain Healing: Quadriplegic Man Skis Again

The staff and volunteers at Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra don’t give up.

You’ve probably heard that before, but we really mean it. When a quadriplegic man attached to a battery-packed medical ventilator came in and said he wanted to go skiing, the team said yes, we’ll find a way to make it work.

“He wasn’t going to quit, so neither were we,” said Kathy Copeland, the Executive Director of Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra. “His smile… his tears… just that thrill. There is something magical about these mountains that are so healing.”

See the dedication of this organization for yourself — from start to finish on a beautiful snowy day in Mammoth Lakes, CA (the future home of the National Wounded Warrior Center).

Operation Mountain Freedom: A New Purple Heart for Roy Cratty

Blue skies and fresh snow set the perfect scene for wounded, ill and injured military athletes to face on-snow challenges during the 13th annual Wounded Warrior Operation Mountain Freedom, a Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra winter program for adaptive military athletes.

But the program is much more than adaptive skiing — Operation Mountain Freedom enables American veterans with disabilities to conquer their fears, learn new skills, make new friends, and be honored by the community for their service and sacrifices.

Among the veterans at this year’s program was Corporal Roy Cratty. Roy and his wife, Carole, have been involved with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra for years. Roy served in the Korean War, often called the “forgotten war” for how its heroes were treated when they returned home. He has dealt with PTSD for decades.

This past fall, Roy and Carole lost their home — and Roy’s Purple Heart — in the Paradise Fire in California. The organizers of Operation Mountain Freedom found a way to have the military decoration reissued to Roy during the last day of the program.

The Purple Heart was presented by the commanding officer at the U.S. Marines’ Mountain Warfare Training Center at Pickel Meadows, which is just north of Mammoth Lakes (the future home of the National Wounded Warrior Center). In the 1950s, Roy was part of the very first class at Pickel Meadows.

Roy and Carole stood together on stage to receive his new Purple Heart. After the ceremony, Roy had four words for the news reporters who were there: “Honored. Humble. Stunned. Appreciative.”

You can see Roy at Operation Mountain Freedom in this video starting at 2:09.

Operation Mountain Freedom 2019

MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA – Tuesday, February 5, 2019. The blue skies, moderate temperatures, and some fresh snow set the perfect scene for wounded, ill, and injured military athletes to face their on-snow challenges during the 2019 Wounded Warrior OPERATION MOUNTAIN FREEDOM (OMF). This was the 13th year Mammoth Mountain hosted Wounded Warrior OPERATION MOUNTAIN FREEDOM, Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra’s (DSES) winter program for adaptive military athletes. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area contributed lift tickets, rentals, event space, meals, and more to wounded warrior participants. This year’s OMF participants numbered 63 wounded warriors, staff, and guests – the largest OMF group to date.

During the week, DSES staff and volunteer instructors watched athletes’ confidence grow with their skills on snow. Three jam-packed days of alpine and Nordic skiing and snowboarding for participants, many new to the sports, along with group breakfasts, lunches, and dinners culminated in a fun afternoon of play at Woolly’s tube park. For participants, the true success of the week is connecting with each other and sharing stories while discovering new abilities. As the week progressed, the smiles grew bigger and the hugs grew warmer and stronger.

Special extracurricular events during the program included a presentation by Canine Companions for Independence, an art therapy by Project AIM (Art Inside Me), the traditional Arch of Honor where participants are cheered on by community members while going through a celebratory arch of raised ski poles, and a presentation of a new purple heart to Corporal Roy Cratty, after his original was burned in the Paradise Fire. CBS affiliate KPIX and FOX News newscasters were on site to capture the action (watch the FOX clip at:

Top: Athlete Sarah with Volunteers Cindy and Jack – Photo by Susan Baribault. Middle: Aerial view of an athlete with volunteers – Photo by Wayne Smith.

Bottom: Volunteers Barb and Lee with Athlete Taylor – Photo by Peter Markle. |

Left: Athlete Damon with Volunteer Emily. – Photo by Susan Baribault. Right: Athlete Roy with DSES Exchange Instructor Dean – Photo by Wayne Smith.

Since the inception of OMF, the number of participants has grown exponentially as have the number of mentors. Mentors, such as Major General TS Jones (ret.), give participants hope, guidance, and inspiration. Jones told participants that their journey giving back and serving others is not over, that staying connected with others is crucial, and that this entire week was made possible by the passion, commitment, and expertise of volunteers, donors, and staff. Jones reminded everyone that the connectivity and opportunity that Operation Mountain Freedom provides is “a blessing of liberty”.

DSES is grateful for the more than 80 incredible volunteers who gave their time, skills, and energy, sharing their passion for the mountains and snow sports with participants. DSES also wishes to extend their gratitude for the generous sponsors who makes this week extraordinary: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Disabled Sports USA, Department of Veteran’s Affairs, The Westin Monache Resort, The Rudders, Mammoth Lakes Fire Department, Burgers Restaurant, Good Life Café, Eastern Sierra Transit Authority, Sue Ebersold, The Currys, The Hamiltons, The Wolfes with Canine Companions for Independence, Sharon DeMattia and Project AIM, the cooking crew (including Hilary Schroeder, Randee Levin, Betsie Greenwood, Tomoko Jost, Leslie Markovitz, Amy Ambellan, Dale Fulkerson, Maggie Wahl, Pat Smoogen, Tricia Diamand, Becky Takayesu, Noreen Wilbur, Sharon Landes, Alan Yata, Kim Montgomery, and Andrea and Tony Pighetti), the event decorators extraordinaire (especially Amy and Steve Ambellan and Kathy and Bert Moon), and photographers (Wayne Smith, Peter Markle, Sue Baribault, and Andrea Pighetti).

Fireside Chat Laurel Martin M.B.A.

Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra

Summer Program & Guest Services Manager

Laurel with Diploma (1)When did you start working with Disabled Sports in Mammoth Lakes, CA?

I moved to Mammoth Lakes in the summer of 2006 and began volunteering with Mammoth Dog Teams.  I was first introduced to Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) in Mammoth Lakes, CA when they brought a few students down for some therapy time with the dogs.  In the beginning of October 2006, I was hired as a seasonal Administrative Assistant. That was DSES’s 4th season and there were only 4 staff members.  However, the organization was growing rapidly and I quickly became a year-round employee.  

What does your work at DSES involve?

Over the years, I have had many titles and worn many hats in the organization.  I tend to describe my current job as running the summer program, overseeing the office and guest services, and handling the back office.  For example, working with the database, financials, insurance, etc. as well as establishing partnerships and grants management.  So much of what I do is the nuts and bolts of running the business end of things.  But I love getting to work with the athletes and volunteers as much as I can!

What do you find the most rewarding about your work at DSES?

One of the things I look for in a job is finding meaningful work.  No question, what we do here is meaningful.  But hands down the best part of working at DSES is the people.  The amazing athletes, family members, volunteers, donors, and, of course the DSES team, make even the toughest day better.  I have met so many wonderful people over the last nine years that have touched me deeply.  We change lives here, mine included.

What does a typical day in the middle of ski season look like for you at DSES?

It is hard to pin down a ‘typical’ day at DSES, winter or summer!  But in the winter, the days are certainly full.  With lessons twice a day, clinics for volunteers, possible grant applications or reporting deadlines, booking and confirming reservations for lessons, donor cultivation, event planning, and more, there is guaranteed to be a long to-do list!  In the winter, we get to see the bulk of our volunteers and students, many of whom I have gotten to know well over the years.  So there is a great energy and enthusiasm that makes the day pass quickly!

What was your motivation for getting your MBA?

I have often been asked why I would get an MBA when I work for a nonprofit.  The skills and business practices that are taught at business school can help ANY business reach their goals, including mission driven nonprofits.  Having been a part of the rapid growth at DSES over the past decade, I want to be able to sustainably continue this growth. During my courses, I was able to adapt the lessons to our organization and even complete projects using DSES as a subject. For example, financial management principles help me to better understand grant requirements and reporting, operational management can help streamline our processes, and strategic management can guide us into the future on a clear path.

Were you worried about being able to balance work at DSES and school?

At times; this was one of the most difficult challenges I have faced (so far).  When I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Business Administration and found a great online program at nearby University of Nevada-Reno, I knew it wouldn’t be simple. This highly ranked business school was sure to provide a top notch education and rigorous curriculum. Their Executive MBA program is specifically designed to be pursued while continuing to work full time (although that does not mean it is easy!) and provides a solid foundation in finance and management.

Fortunately, over the course of nine years working at DSES, I have also developed some juggling skills! With support from the wonderful DSES team, I was able to find a balance between school and work and even achieved straight A’s! The sacrifices, the time and energy it took to balance everything, was all worth it to earn that MBA.

What plans do you have for the future?

Although these last two years have been difficult, the skills and knowledge I have gained are extremely valuable. They not only help me to be a better leader and manager, but they can help guide us into the next chapter as an organization. With MBA in hand, I am eager to explore the challenges and opportunities ahead including working with our amazing volunteers to continue providing life changing experiences for all of our athletes. My motto truly has become, “If I can do this, I can do anything!”

Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra is a volunteer-based nonprofit dedicated to changing the lives of children and adults with disabilities and their families by offering year-round outdoor sports and activities, creating inspiring challenges, providing expert instruction and adaptive equipment rallying the community to comfortably accommodate people with disabilities. DSES has adaptive equipment to fulfill everyone’s winter and summer dreams: gliding down a snow-covered mountainside, cruising on a cycle or skimming over a placid lake. Activities are customized to each individual; one-on-one or in a group. Our goal is for everyone to be active year round! DSES makes the outdoors accessible and affordable!!

To learn more or make a donation please visit:

If you would like to be a guest blogger for DSES please contact:

Suzanne Baracchini

Communications Director    

Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra


Adaptive Outdoor Adventure Mammoth Summer Trip by Becky Bershtel

12034453_909799355723956_567157515663124268_oWe had an incredible, amazingly successful time on our Adaptive Outdoor Adventure Mammoth and Yosemite summer trip (Sept. 15 – 20)! We had 10 participants who are past Rancho patients (and Wellness Center members), with disabilities including spinal cord injury, polio, cerebral palsy, stroke, and brain injury, the majority of whom had never been on an overnight trip with Rancho AOA. We participated in three days of activities with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) in Mammoth including adaptive cycling, adaptive rock climbing, kayaking and adaptive paddleboarding, and a gondola ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain (11,000 feet!). On our last full day of the trip we stopped at the Mammoth visitor center where all 10 participants received lifetime access passes for free entry into any national park. Then we drove into Yosemite National Park where we had a picnic lunch on the valley floor and explored the Yosemite Visitor center and museum, then drove up to Glacier Point for an adaptive trail challenge and breathtaking views!Many thanks to Tiffany Yonemoto (RT) and Dave van Beek (new Rancho volunteer and a GREAT help on the trip!), we all worked together as a team to make this the best experience possible for the participants. Also thanks to Deb Arroyo and the Rancho Foundation, we had funding for the trip without which this trip would not have been possible!

Quotes from participants:

“My favoite memory was Yosemite (brought back memories!) and biking and all the activities. My goals coming into the trip were to meet new people and my goals were met. Now I want to go back for more! On this trip I learned that patience is a good thing and that I’m much more athletic than I thought!”

“My favorite memories were hand cycling, rock climbing, kayaking, and the fellowship. My goal was to participate in all the activities to the best of my ability, and 100% my goals were met. On this trip I learned that when you see someone make the challenge before you it gives you the confidence to go for it 100%. And how much the helpers really care, and how you have their full support.”

“I will always remember cycling because it was my first time cycling upright again [pedaling with feet] since my stroke. My goals for the trip were to meet new people and to participate in every event, and my goals were met. On this trip I learned to keep faith, believe in myself and go for it.”

“The bike [hand cycle] just blew my mind. I never thought I would be riding a bike again. The rock climbing was awesome, I completed the challenge. So many times I wanted to quit but I got to the top! The paddleboarding was another favorite activity, being in the middle of the lake and being independent was awesome. My goals coming into the trip were to do all the sports and activities and to challenge myself and push myself more. I feel that my goals were met. I couldn’t and now I can.”

“My favorite memories from the trip were cycling, kayaking, rock climbing and exploring Yosemite. My goals coming into the trip were to rock climb – it was hard but I did it!; and to try everything and I did it! and will keep doing it! On this trip I got to know everyone, I learned that the activities are exciting and that I can do it!”

“My favorite memory was hand cycling. My goals coming into the trip were to experience new things and push myself, and definitely my goals were met. On this trip I learned how to adapt to new situations.”

“My favorite memories were the views from cycling and riding on the high line. My goals coming into the trip were to test my balance and skills in dirt and to see what it would take to get through a 5 day trip. My goals were met. On this trip I learned it’s a lot easier to travel than I thought and I got a lot of information for when I come back.”

“From the activities my favorite was rock climbing. But overall I really enjoyed all the people in the group and I got to know a lot about them. My goals coming into the trip were to be able to independently take care of all my daily needs and I feel like I did a pretty good job with the equipment I had. On this trip I learned that any outdoor activity can be adapted, and people are always willing to help. And I went a week without wheelie bars!”

“My favorite memory was the day we spent at the lake kayaking. My goals coming into the trip were to try new environments and see if my body could conquer the challenges that these environments gave met, and I feel that my goals were met. On this trip I learned to trust other people.”

“Rock climbing was the highlight of my experience. On this trip I learned tolerance for others and patients, and I really liked meeting new people. Everything about this trip was just great.”

Written by: Rebecca (Becky) Bershtel, CTRS, RTC
Recreation Therapist II
Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center
7601 East Imperial Highway | JPI Bldg Room T2180 | Downey, CA 90242
O: (562) 401-6335 | F: (562) 401-6169

A Conversation with Jerry Mokler a long time supporter of Disabled Sports and Wounded Warriors.

Jerry Mokler Interview - Google DocsI had an opportunity to sit and chat with Jerry Mokler, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday. A long time Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) supporter, Jerry is the founder of the Lloyd Mokler Family Foundation. Pictured here skydiving in Hawaii, when asked if she was scared to jump out of the plane, she answered “Oh No!….I was a ski racer….that was much, much scarier!

pic21: How did you spend your 90th birthday?

There were lots of parties with friends and family, I had a private dinner with my friends in Carlsbad at La Costa Glen where I live.

2: What gave you the idea for setting up the Lloyd Mokler Family Foundation?

One day I was on a Camp Pendleton tour bus and we drove by Wounded Warrior Battalion West. We couldn’t go inside as a General was about to visit but later we were able to have a tour with my friend Steve Colwell, a Vietnam Veteran. It stuck me right there and then, I had to do something for our wounded warriors. My husband and son were both wounded warriors and my grandson is a Captain in the US Marines. He has served in Afghanistan but fortunately not wounded. I immediately called Kathy Copeland, Executive Director, DSES in Mammoth Lakes, CA and said “I just have to do something but I don’t know what?” Kathy proceeded to tell me about a new DSES Program that was just getting under way, The National Wounded Warrior Center (NWWC) that would be built adjacent to the Cerro Coso College Campus. My husband, Lloyd, helped fund the building of the College and this was near and dear to his heart.

I asked Kathy if I could start a Foundation in my husbands name, a foundation whose mission would be to help build the NWWC, where wounded warriors and their families can stay while participating in sports and education programs that will enable them to successfully return to civilian life. Kathy said “Yes!” and the Lloyd Mokler Family Foundation was born.

3: Can you tell us about your 90th Birthday Fundraising Campaign?


I was amazed at the response to my birthday campaign where I asked my friends and family to donate $90. We raised over $10,000 and the money is still coming in. Children that played in my yard when I lived in Mammoth Lakes, who are now adults, came out of the woodwork and donated toward my 90th birthday campaign. The biggest thing to come out of this was not only the wonderful donations that will go straight to help support the National Wounded Warrior Center but the awareness it raised amongst my friends.

4: What advice would you give to others who want to show their support for NWWC?

 People just need to get involved in some way, not everyone can be involved in the same way, they have to find what resonates with them. It is such an important cause. More and more people are recognising how much our wounded warriors have done for our country and how much they need our help to transition back into civilian life. They are recognising Vietnam Veterans now, which they never did. I brought my son, a vietnam veteran and a wounded warrior, up to Mammoth last year and he was very moved and impressed about what was being done for the Vietnam Vets at DSES. My son got to experience the “Arch of Honor” something that really moved him and he will never forget.

[DSES Arch of Honor 2014, Mammoth Mountain, CA]

[DSES Arch of Honor 2014, Mammoth Mountain, CA]

I think it is a beautiful thing that wounded warriors from all wars are being honored at DSES through their programs. I love and admire Kathy Copeland “Crazy Kathy” for all she has done for our wounded warriors and the vision she has for the National Wounded Warrior Center.

8: Tell me something about yourself that most people might not know?

I was a professional clown, I am not sure where that came from. I love to experience many different things in life and have a lot of interests. When I lived in Mammoth Lakes I  ran Classes for children and adults to learn how to become clowns.

It was an honor and a pleasure to sit and chat with Jerry Mokler in the Lobby of the Mammoth Mountain Inn and listen to her stories. I could feel her passion for our the National Wounded Warrior Center a program of Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra.

Thank you Jerry!

[Jerry Mokler with Suzanne Baracchini, DSES Communications Director, fireside chat Mammoth Mountain Inn]

[Jerry Mokler with Suzanne Baracchini, DSES Communications Director, fireside chat Mammoth Mountain Inn]



[Image Credit: Terri Matz]

Back row, left to right: Karl, Carlynn, Justin, E.L., Gary, Jeff, Jim, Jack Copeland, John, Ross, Brent Truax, Al Davis, Dave, Kevin, Rick, Juice, Steve. Second row: Tom, Ryan, Docker (Canine Extraordinaire!), Laurel Martin, Cliff, Devin, Kathy Copeland, Maggie Palchak, Cindy, Carolyn, Suzanne Baracchini, Gileen Front: Nate

On July 25th, 18 dedicated cyclists left Mammoth Lakes on a 3 day Sierra Cycle Challenge, a fundraising ride that covered 150 miles and climbed 10,000 feet through the Eastern Sierras. Accompanied by 5 support riders and a crew of hardworking volunteers, the riders were well fed, receiving encouragement along the way and even massages after grueling day 2 of the ride.

The cyclists exceeded their fundraising goal of $40,000 with additional gifts still being received. All the money raised goes to the Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) Scholarship fund which covers 43% of lessons for disabled athletes. “Our policy at DSES is to never say “no” to an athlete for reasons of financial need. This was our best Sierra Cycle Challenge ever and we are excited for 2016” said Maggie Palchak, DSES Program Coordinator.

DSES thanks everyone that donated, the riders, and volunteers for their incredible support. Local businesses who provided support for the event include: Footloose Sports, Mammoth Chevron, Mammoth SPORT Center and Kevin Thomas, John and Debbie Eilts, Laundry Annex, VONS, CLIF, Mono Vista RV Park, Z Pizza, Giovanni’s, Burgers, Rusty Gregory, Noon­Time Rotary and our Massage Therapists; Michelle, Jill, Sarah and Kristin.

To learn more or make a donation please visit:

Click Here to read Ryan Sykes Sierra Cycle Challenge Blog

Suzanne Baracchini ©2015
Communications Director
National Wounded Warrior Center
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Phone: 760.934.0791