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Amputees slap on the skies

In seventy-four years, Bob Eiden has faced many experiences, however as he stood on a snow bank overlooking Snowmass Mountain he really had to mentally prepare himself for his first experience on skis, 16 months after having his right leg amputated.

“I’m scared to death,” admitted Eiden, an Air Force Korean War veteran who is joining about 400 other disabled veterans for his first National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. “But I’m going to do this, because I want to be an example for the younger people.”

Eiden broke his leg in two places sliding into home plate during a pickup softball game while he was assigned to Strategic Air Command in Topeka, Kan. That was in 1957, decades before many of the troops he hopes to inspire here were born.

After eight surgeries, the most recent one to remove his leg, Eiden said he finally feels liberated from the pain that haunted him for 43 years. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.

Now, despite failing eyesight and hearing, Eiden said he’s ready to push himself to new limits on the mountain. It’s a way to prove something not only to himself and his son, but just as importantly, to younger veterans he said he hopes to inspire.

Eiden remembers all too clearly what it felt like to be cut down in his prime by a freak accident, and said he sees a lot of the same emotions he felt in combat-wounded troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Some come back depressed; they don’t want to do anything but sit in a wheelchair. They think that their life is over,” he said. “Well, I’m here to show them that there’s still life after a disability. I hope my being here will show other people that their life isn’t over.”

Eiden is an active member of Disabled American Veterans, serving as its chapter commander in Nampa, Idaho. He said he’s proud of the DAV’s role in supporting disabled veterans, including cosponsoring the winter sports clinic with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It’s important that we recognize our disabled veterans and look out for their needs,” he said.

A big part of that, he said, is helping disabled veterans realize what they’re still able to do. Eiden remembers how it felt to have his family clamor to protect him and do things for him. What he really needed at the time, he said, was to learn how to become independent in his new circumstances.

“Disabled people want to be able to do things themselves,” he said. “They need to know that, ‘I’m still a whole man,’ or ‘I’m still a whole woman.’

“Being here at the winter sports clinic, putting on those skis and going down that mountain is one way of proving that.”

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