The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program (WASP) is hosting a unique group of clients this weekend, as a private American donor arranged adaptive ski and snowboard lessons for a group of wounded soldiers from Fort Lewis in Washington state.
All of the soldiers are in a wounded warrior battalion, which provides the means for soldiers to rehabilitate their injuries and return to service or transition back into civilian life. The program, the Anything's Possible Camp, was originally supposed to start next September using the athletes residences at the Whistler Athletes' Centre to house the visitors. However, organizers decided to press ahead and run this weekend as a pilot project.
"Given the proximity of the Paralympic Games and the need for programs like this we decided to start up in January as a pilot project," said Chelsey Walker, executive director of WASP. "The eventual goal is to expand the program and run camps multiple times a year, and definitely take advantage of the legacy of our footprint in the centre and especially the athletes' lodge."
WASP is also looking at hosting soldiers from Canada through the Soldier On program and from the U.K. through Battle Back.
The programming would eventually expand to include other winter sports like Nordic skiing, and summer recreation like kayaking, rowing, hand cycling and other programs offered by WASP.
"In the future we do plan to grow the program, and we understand that there's a lot of demand for all kinds of recreation," said Walker. "The soldiers will come to Whistler in a camp environment and will be able to try a lot of different sports. It's a step in the right direction in terms of getting individuals within the military services that are injured back into the sporting environment. It's rehabilitation and recreation."
Walker says some of the soldiers have never skied or snowboarded before, while others have been on the mountain in the past but not since being wounded on the battlefield. Most will learn to ski with WASP instructors, but at least one soldier has shown an interest in taking snowboarding lessons.
On the American side the program is being organized by a Seattle couple who are active with the American Friends of Whistler, a group that has been supportive of WASP. Some of the athletes will stay with the Seattle couple in their second home, while others will stay at the Delta Whistler Village Suites. Whistler Blackcomb is also helping to sponsor the program by providing lower rates on lessons and tickets.
They arrive Friday, Jan. 22 and depart on Sunday.