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Miracles on a mountainside

Students gain practical experience and more volunteering at disabled veterans clinic

"Miracles on a Mountainside” is more than a motto for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

“It was probably one of the most incredible experiences that I’ve ever had,” said exercise science major Ashlynn Cichella, who volunteered at the clinic for the first time this past April with 16 other CMU students.

For 25 years, Professor of Kinesiology Jill Cordova, PhD, and her students have volunteered at the clinic.

Teamed up with physical therapists from around the country, the volunteers assisted nearly 450 disabled veterans in winter and other adaptive activities including Alpine and Nordic skiing, sled hockey, snowmobiling, scuba diving and rock wall climbing.

blind veteran skiing with the help of two volunteers

Veterans from all branches of service
attended the clinic.

“The real purpose of the clinic is to empower the veterans to realize that regardless of how long they have been injured or what their injury is that there are so many things that they can still do,” said Cordova, who has not missed a single clinic in the past 25 years.

Cichella’s team was assigned 32 veterans. The group was comprised of new and older veterans who were blind or partially blind, wheelchair bound, had traumatic brain injuries or were amputees with prosthetics. The group went skiing, which was a first for some of the veterans, and took a snowcat ride across the mountain along with other adaptive activities.

“I think it is great exposure for students to have the opportunity to support veterans,” said National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic Director Teresa Parks. “This is also a great opportunity for students with an interest in rehabilitation to get a sense of what goes into supporting individuals with disabilities.”

Volunteering at this clinic and interactions with the veterans helped confirm for Cichella her path after graduation.

“I’ve been interested in prosthetics. A lot of the people who go to this have amputations and have prosthetic limbs, so I was really interested to get to work with them in a setting where they were doing these kinds of activities.”

After CMU, she will apply to graduate schools with the goal of becoming a prosthetics practitioner.

a student and veteran smile for the camera
Student Noelle Berg and a veteran participant
pause from the festivities for a photo.

The profound impact this clinic has on the veterans who attend and the students who volunteer is lasting. There were 10 alumni from the kinesiology department that volunteered at the clinic this year, and a handful of them have been doing it every year for the past five years.

“It’s empowering and life changing for a lot of my students,” Cordova said. •


Written by Katlin Birdsall