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PERU — The sunny and relatively warm weather this Saturday wasn’t the only reason it was a special weekend at Bromley Mountain Ski Resort.

The Bart J. Ruggiere Adaptive Sports Center — better known as the Bart Center — hosted 18 disabled veterans and their families for a free weekend of skiing and snowboarding for their annual Wounded Military Heroes Weekend.

For the 17th year, U.S. military veterans made their way from all across the Northeast to be part of a weekend honoring their bravery and sacrifice.

“I’ve been involved for nine or 10 years now, and I will cancel stuff just to be here,” said Kevin McMahon, a Marine Corps and Army veteran from Connecticut with 30 years of service between the two branches.

McMahon’s sentiment seemed to be the prevailing one for all of the veterans present. Several said they never miss the weekend now that they are part of it. The closeness of the group, even including some newcomers, is immediately palpable.

“We speak the same language,” said Justin Nash, another Army veteran, explaining what makes the veterans at the event bond so quickly.

The Bart Center had dozens of volunteer ski instructors outfitted in conspicuous red jackets that made them easy to find for their veteran buddies. They made the weekend possible for the veterans, some of whom required additional considerations for their disabilities, and others who simply needed lessons since they were just starting out. None of the former service members went without a day of fun and camaraderie.

Of course, with a wide variety of backstories and disabilities to accommodate for, being an adaptive sports instructor requires some skill and training, said Daniel Mon, president of the Bart Center board.

“It’s a lot of art, and not as much science,” said Mon, who also volunteered as an instructor for the weekend.

Mon offered a great deal of credit to Joe Hurley, executive director of the Bart Center, for training all the instructors in techniques that help their students feel fulfilled and like they’re progressing, while doing so safely.

“We have all the tools, but a lot of it is getting to know the athlete, trying to figure out what they need, and meeting them somewhere on that plane,” said Mon, whose youngest daughter has Moebius Syndrome and benefits from the program herself. “We always say it’s a good thing we’re adaptive. Because you’re always adapting a skillset and a lesson.”

“Some injuries are visible, and some are not. Some (skiers) are amputees, and some are not,” said McMahon, who still gets out on the slopes despite several injuries to his back and shoulders.

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To his point, several skiers who made it out experience post-traumatic stress and have found some refuge in the military weekend. For Nash, one skier with a PTSD diagnosis, the ability to bring his family and get them lessons is invaluable.

“For me to be able to have something to look forward to that I can do with my kids, my family, and not have to stress about it, or worry about it, is such a relief,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to teach my kids to ski. I would lose my patience. It wouldn’t be fun at all.”

Nancy Beman, another Army veteran with PTSD, could be heard exclaiming, “I did it!” at the bottom of one of her successful runs down the mountain. The Chester native just began skiing last year, but it has been a significant boost to her mental health.

“It gives me the opportunity to get out and be social instead of isolating like I normally would, and pushing myself to learn new things, and this is definitely new,” she said with a laugh. “(I get to) meet awesome people, and it just gives me a sense of accomplishment… to say I did it. I fell down, but I kept getting back up…”

The entire Spader family, from Mystic, Conn., gets to enjoy the veteran weekend, as well. Erich Spader is the veteran in the family, but it’s his 11-year-old son Caleb who is getting the unique experience offered at Bromley.

Caleb suffers from an extremely rare condition that causes gross motor dysfunction and keeps him from being able to stand upright. Thanks to bi-skis, which allow for skiing in a seated position, and volunteers specifically trained to take him down the hill in the apparatus, Caleb was still able to feel the wind on his face with an ear-to-ear grin.

“We have not missed a year,” said Erich, who has been bringing his family since Caleb was four. “It’s amazing. The Bart Center is amazing. They’re very close to our hearts.”

The weekend that honors veterans is just one event that falls under the much larger umbrella of the adaptive sports center affectionately referred to as “Bart” by everyone associated with it. The organization’s namesake, Bart J. Ruggiere, was a beloved skier who frequented Bromley since his childhood.

Bart was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. The center was created in his honor, and inspired by Betsy Hurley, Joe’s daughter, who is the senior program manager for the Bart Center. Betsy, a Bennington resident, has spina bifida, but has never let that slow her down. She won a bronze medal in alpine skiing at the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Nancy Hurley, Betsy’s mother, described her as the “heart and soul” of the Bart program. It was a close friend of the Ruggiere family, Dee Chapman, that brought the idea to life.

“(Dee) saw Betsy skiing, and said ‘We need to do that,’” explained Nancy, who has chaired the veteran weekend for all 17 years that it’s existed. “So she brought the idea back to Bart’s family about helping get his program up and running. From there, it just snowballed ... and so here we are 20 years later, and wow.”

Tory Rich can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @ToryRich6


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