Iraq War Amputees Ski Toward Recovery

B R E C K E N R I D G E, Colo., April 4, 2004 -- Skiing and snowboarding at breakneck speeds down a mountain at Breckenridge Ski Resort in a snow storm can be challenging even for the strongest athlete. Imagine what it's like without a leg — or even two legs.

Despite catastrophic injuries recently sustained in the war with Iraq, a half dozen veterans spent a week in Breckenridge, Colo., to learn how to do just that from veterans of another war. The program lasted one week and is part of a yearly excursion for disabled vets.

Kirk Bauer, the head of Disabled Sports USA which sponsors the training, lost his leg from a hand grenade in the Vietnam War. He knows what the "new" vets are going through.

"They are searching, searching for something positive," he told ABCNEWS. "They're trying to put their lives back together again."

‘Learn What They Have Learned’

Navy medic Brian Alaniz lost his right leg below the knee after kneeling on a landmine in Iraq. With the help of a prosthetic ski boot and instruction from another disabled skier, Alaniz was ready to hit the slopes.

"It's a chance to learn from others who are disabled, to learn what they have learned," he said.

On his first run of the day, he fell a couple of times but even experienced skiers were impressed that Alaniz performed as well as he did. At the end of the first day he said he was hooked. No small accomplishment — especially, he admitted, since, "I'm from Texas and there are no mountains or snow there."

Keith Deutsch was a committed snowboarder before he lost his right leg and knee in Iraq.

"We got ambushed," he said, adding that his vehicle had been hit from behind by an RPG, which landed two feet away from him.

Outfitted with a special boot, mechanical knee and prosthetic leg, it didn't take him long to remember how to ride.

"I'm used to just going," he said.

And that he did. He sailed down the mountain without looking back.

"I had to ask him to slow down," said his instructor Pam Eberly, who is also disabled.So how does Deutsch do it?

"It's easier to be positive when you're constantly doing something," he told ABCNEWS. "You sit around in bed, you just get depressed."

‘The Secret’

Eberly said Deutsch has discovered "the secret:"

"If you have it in your heart and free your mind, you can do anything," she said. "It's really amazing."

Deutsch said a goal is all he needs to keep going — a goal that is now within reach.