Anita Flemming waited at the bottom of a ski slope, phone in hand.
She was hoping to get a photo of her husband, John, as he made his way down one of the slopes at Seven Springs Mountain Resort for the first time. Making it down under any circumstance would be impressive, but John's situation is a bit different.
An Army veteran, John was hurt in Iraq, sustaining injuries that required a double spinal fusion. As she waited for her husband to appear on the hill Monday afternoon, Anita Flemming said she wasn't nervous.
"He has issues with bending and issues with handling shock, but with the way this seat is built, it sounds like it's going to be a safe and fun ride," she said.
The seat to which Flemming, of North Wales, Pa., was referring was an adaptive ski chair, which John was securely fastened into. A few seconds later, he appeared on the horizon, surrounded by a squadron of Wounded Warrior Patrol members and volunteers. They slalomed through the course and made their way to the bottom, where Flemming walked to meet her husband.
"I'm just glad he's out here," she said as she made her way through the snow. "If he weren't here, he'd probably just be sitting at home."
The Flemmings are one of more than a dozen families at Seven Springs Mountain Resort this week taking part in the third annual Wounded Warrior Patrol ski trip. The Wounded Warrior Patrol is a nonprofit organization built on the ties between the U.S. military and the National Ski Patrol. Many Wounded Warrior Patrol members are veterans and ski patrollers.
Wounded Warrior Patrol CEO Chris Raup said the goal of the yearly trip is to acclimate wounded veterans with the "recreational therapy" of snow sports.
"For many of them. . . they have injuries that maybe makes gravity not their friend anymore," he said. "We introduce them to sports where gravity is their friend. It's the closest thing to flying, as far as we're concerned."
More than 60 volunteers and crews from Three Rivers Adaptive Sports were on hand Monday to help get the veterans acclimated before hitting the slopes in full force. Raup said while some of the funds needed for the trip come from fundraisers and corporate donations, Seven Springs goes above and beyond to ensure the visit is a memorable experience for all involved.
"Nobody else in (Pennsylvania) has opened their arms to our program as much as (Seven Springs Chairman) Bob Nutting and his team," he said. "It is absolutely fabulous the support we get here, and the in-kind contributions are way beyond what any organization could ever expect."
Seven Springs CEO Eric Mauck said the visit is an opportunity to honor veterans and their families and thank them for their sacrifice.
"We take great pride in our partnership with the Wounded Warrior Patrol and are humbled by the incredible support they offer to the warriors, spouses, caregivers, and children," Mauck said. "Each family is a special guest of the resort and it is important to us that they leave with a wonderful new memory of the time they spent together at Seven Springs."
Raup said the family aspect of the trip is important, as veterans ranging in age from 20 to more than 60 years old use the time to bond with their loved ones. He said the scope of who the project helps is large.
"We consider a Wounded Warrior anyone who's had issues" from service to the country, he said, adding psychological and mental disorders are treated the same as physical disabilities.
Disabilities didn't stop John Flemming from smiling wide as he awaited the ski lift to come around and take him back to the top for a second run. He said he wasn't nervous-he's a self-described 'junkie' for the thrill and speed-but was at a loss for words in summing up his initial run.
"I never would have dreamed I'd ever have a chance to do that," he said. "All the things I used to do stopped. What these folks are doing gives you an opportunity to get back out again. It gives you a little bit of your life back."