Keeping the Spirit Alive
Many service members return from duty severely injured, with lost limbs or other body parts, but they have not lost hope. In coming to terms with their injuries, wounded service members are showing a new kind of courage ' the courage to overcome their new-founded disabilities and return to normal activities. For some, this means returning to or learning to conquer the slopes.
Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 as a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, dedicated to serving the physically and mentally disabled. In 2008, Two Top started a chapter specifically dedicated to wounded service members and supporting the wounded warrior, called "Warfighters Sports Program." Two Top works with severely wounded service members from the National Capital region and areas local to White Tail Mountain. Because of their service and dedication to helping the wounded service members, Two Top and founder Bill Dietrich were named as the Army Awardee at the "Spirit of Hope" award ceremony at the Pentagon Nov. 15.
"Two Top is a volunteer organization, striving to provide a supportive and comfortable atmosphere where disabled individuals and their families can experience sporting activities," said Michael Caselle, engineering technical supervisor at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. "Two Top volunteers give countless hours working with this country's bravest and selfless men and women from all services."
Many of the volunteers working at Two Top are active duty or reserve service members, veterans or retired military. All volunteers, regardless of background, are provided with training opportunities in teaching techniques for disabled snow and water skiing.
In addition to working with the disabled in sports activities, Two Top works closely with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., and the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir, Va.
"[Two Top] offers assistance as a prosthetic testing center, helping to improve prosthetic performance for snow sports," said Caselle.
All-in-all, Two Top provided volunteer and wounded service members with uplifting and inspiring experiences.
"When I come home from the ski slope or the water, I know I have had a positive effect on someone's life that day," said Caselle. "Working to give a person back a piece of their life, a small and what may even seem insignificant experience, can truly touch their soul. The impact can be life-changing for both the participant and myself."
Caselle and his daughter, Sienna, have been volunteering at Two Top for three years now.
"My daughter has been with me from the start," said Caselle. "At eleven, she has been the youngest volunteer in the program. She started by serving lunches, but has quickly moved to assisting on snow during both training and lessons."
Although Sienna currently is not old enough, she someday hopes to become a primary instructor.
Last year, Caselle and nine other volunteers in the program became certified ski instructors through the Professional Ski Instructors of America.
Upon hearing about mission of the Two Top Foundation, Col. Russell Coleman, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, contacted Caselle to see how he and his daughter, Natalie, could become volunteers. In the winter of 2011-2012, Coleman and his daughter began helping wounded service members on the slopes as well.
"We are out there helping out in any way that we can," said Coleman. "The wounded service members and their families get so much out of the program. It's incredibly rewarding."
According to Coleman, his daughter was so moved by her experience with Two Top that she has decided to attend college to become a biomedical engineer so that one day she may work to help improve prosthetics.
The work that the volunteers at Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation do is an inspiration not only to the wounded, but also to the volunteers themselves. Two Top and its volunteers are truly the "embodiment of the values of the men and women of the military: Duty, Honor, Courage, Loyalty, Commitment, Integrity, and Selfless Dedication" and deserving of the 2012 Spirit of Hope Award.