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Wasatch Adaptive Sports: Reaching veterans through recreational programs and the outdoors

May 2, 2014 7 minute Read by George W. Bush Presidential Center

The George W. Bush Institute’s fourth annual Warrior 100K bike ride is being held this week in Crawford, Texas. The Institute selected 16 warriors as riders for the May 1 -3 mountain bike ride at President and Mrs. Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch.  In turn, the military personnel nominated organizations that have helped their recovery,  transition and reintegration. The military service organizations being highlighted this year are Hire Heroes USA, the Green Beret Foundation  and Wasatch Adaptive Sports.

The Bush Institute blog asked each organization to describe their work, their accomplishments and their  obstacles. Here is how Wasatch Adaptive Sports responded to our questions:

What do you do – and why do you do it?

Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for children, adults and veterans with special needs. We do that through therapeutic recreational, educational and social programs.

Our veterans program promotes the healing, health and well-being of combat service members and veterans so they can cope with military-related physical, cognitive and emotional difficulties. We want to restore their sense of reverence and connection with the outdoors and to allow them to recapture a range of emotions. We also want to offer safe, meaningful challenges and the opportunity to enjoy natural settings that promote trust with others.

We particularly try to get veterans, adults and children with mental health issues and physical disabilities out of the house and back into the community. We do that through a range of conventional and adaptive programs. They include skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in winter and biking, hiking, camping, fishing and paddle-boarding in spring, summer and fall. Physicians, psychologists and therapists help us assess each veteran so we can provide the appropriate activity and equipment.

All our lessons are paid for through a full or partial scholarship. No veteran has been turned away because of financial limitations. They and their family members receive scholarships for daily activities, equipment, meals or overnight accommodations. We can do that because of our donors, who contribute financially or through in-kind services.

We provide therapeutic recreational activities and programs to individuals and families in need because we have a passion of impacting the lives of others.

What impact are you having?

We have seen healing take place among our veterans. As one example, they are regaining trust in others, including camaraderie with fellow veterans.  Many have lacked that since returning from war.

They are now experiencing emotion again, feeling joy and sharing laughter. They also are reconnecting with nature while enjoying outdoor recreation.

Many have decided to make positive changes in their lives after learning new skills and how to have fun again. They focus on being healthy and getting in shape. They also are getting back their lives, as well as that of their families. How great is that!

Getting veterans out of the house can be a challenge. Sometimes they cancel before finally attending an activity. When they do come, some tend to initially sit around the perimeter of the room and not say a word.  Once they start to participate, we see a change. They tend to be more trusting, start to relax, enjoy the activity and participate more. They also want to learn additional skills, realizing the importance of being healthy and fit so they can be more efficient. Some veterans have lost as much as 40-60 lbs.

As examples of impact, one veteran has become our military liaison. He is a role model and mentor and connects more veterans to our program.  Another veteran emerged from major depression to participate in all our activities and just last week started an accounting internship at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. That was made possible through our Scholarship Work Program for Veterans. Another veteran found a job working as a ski patroller at Snowbird and another is now a lift operator, all because of their interaction and participation in our programs. Being outside in a spectacular setting and enjoying what nature has to offer while participating in therapeutic recreational activities with comrades is a positive life changing experience.

As another example of impact, we are seeing a 15-20 percent increase in the number of annual lessons over the last three years. This year, we should provide lessons for 950 veterans.

We also work with local hospitals, the Veterans Administration and therapy groups. For example, an assessment is done in collaboration with physicians, psychologists, and therapists to provide the appropriate activity and equipment for a veteran or group of veterans. We meet with the VA’s clinical psychologists to present opportunities for veterans to participate in our scholarship program. Doctors also refer veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations and severe trauma who need specific adaptive equipment so they can ski or cycle.  We collaborate with University of Utah Health Care with their hand-cycling program. We also involve veterans as we work with children referred by Primary Children’s Medical Center and Shriners Hospital for Children.

The collaboration has been beyond our expectation.

What stands in the way for progress for you?

Our long-range goal is to provide more scholarships to children, adults and veterans with special needs while maintaining the highest quality services. This means not sacrificing quality for growth.

We are outgrowing our facilities so a more immediate goal is building a new office/therapeutic center. As we grow, we will always keep operational costs and capital expenditures separate. 

Getting veterans to participate on their own can be challenging at times.  Usually they find out about our programs through the VA, the Sierra Club or other large non-profit outdoor programs. They also may hear about us from other veterans.

Five years ago, it was very difficult to get even one veteran to participate. Once we connected with the VA and set up a series of programs, participation started to rise to where it is now.

We do have a very strong base of participating veterans, but it is hard recruiting veterans that are not associated with the VA system. We are starting to gain more interest and awareness through social media, our website and local media.  We are trying to reach the veteran that has isolated himself from the VA and other rehabilitation facilities. 


George W. Bush Presidential Center



As the 13th presidential library, the Bush Library and Museum promotes an understanding of the American presidency, examines the specific time in history during which President Bush served, and provides access to official records and artifacts from the Bush Administration.



The Bush Institute is an action-oriented, nonpartisan policy organization that cultivates leaders, fosters policies to solve today’s most pressing challenges, and takes action to save and change lives. Our work is inspired by the principles that guide President and Mrs. Bush in public life.

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