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Veterans grow their confidence and ability through skiing in Colorado

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Now to Colorado, where an annual event to help disabled veterans is giving a boost to one service member who wants to stay in the military despite being newly paralyzed. Aspen Public Radio's Kaya Williams has her story.

KAYA WILLIAMS, BYLINE: About a year ago, 22-year-old Lauren Arduser was training to be a Russian linguist for the U.S. Air Force in California. But then she was in a car accident. It left her mostly paralyzed from the neck down.

LAUREN ARDUSER: When I first even realized I'd been in an accident, all I had was, like, lifting up my arms.

WILLIAMS: She's been making progress and is now able to walk with some support, but she wants to keep improving.

ARDUSER: I gave myself the goal of, in the first six months, this is where I want to be, or, I want to get back to, like, at least doing as much independence as I can. And then I got there, and then I was like, OK, I need a next goal.

WILLIAMS: So today on a brisk blue sky morning at Snowmass Ski Area, Arduser is trying skiing for the first time. She's using a set ski which looks like a chair with a pair of skis attached to the bottom. She tries it out on a short run of just a few hundred yards.

ARDUSER: I was trying to do it as perfectly as possible. I don't know how I did, but I thought it was really fun regardless.

WILLIAMS: The ski lesson is part of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. Every year, to stay mentally and physically healthy, a group of veterans who have mostly retired due to disability learn adaptive skiing. Arduser is a little different. She's younger and determined to get back on active duty with the Air Force and continue pursuing her career dreams.

ARDUSER: I've definitely made a lot of progress, and I'm hoping that, like, even more comes. Just talking to all the different vets here, they're very positive and hopeful for me.

WILLIAMS: Among those helping her today is instructor Bob Bauman, who's been volunteering here for a couple years.

BOB BAUMAN: I get tears in my eyes because of people like Lauren. It's just - I mean, it's my little way of giving back because I'm lucky - not that they're not lucky, but I'm lucky. So...

ARDUSER: Well, we're lucky to have people like you to help...

BAUMAN: Well, thank you, Lauren.

ARDUSER: ...People with stuff like this.

BAUMAN: Lauren's my best friend now.

WILLIAMS: After a long, smooth run on the snow with Bauman and another instructor, Arduser is smiling from ear to ear. She says the vets and instructors here have given her confidence that she can return to active duty and pursue other goals.

ARDUSER: That's exciting just knowing that, like, all of the goals that I had a year ago, even - they can still happen, you know?

WILLIAMS: Arduser is picking up skiing quickly, making turns down the run with confidence. You'd never know it was her first time. For NPR News, I'm Kaya Williams in Aspen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kaya Williams