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: https://bit.ly/2ScIaxT).
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).