VAST: Fall 2019 and Winter 2020

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Fall and Winter Weather Not Always Our Friend, but…

As happens with most late fall and winter months, weather can sometimes present challenges but luckily, adapting is what we do best!  The snow took a long time getting here and when it did there were often periods of warm temperatures that made normal activities a little more difficult to carry out.  Despite that, it has been a good few months for VAST which included cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, WC Basketball and bowling, and a walk and tour of Pineland’s new Maple Sugar Shack Operation.

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November 3-7, we had our 3rd Annual Veterans Deer Hunt.  We brought together six Veterans from all over the country for three days of hunting.  In spite of all the early scouting, game camera records and the expert guiding by Matt Sabasteanski’s team, at the end of the day, our two out-of-State hunters were the only ones lucky enough to tag out. However, that did not stop everyone from enjoying the kind of comradery that has become the hallmark of these camps. As we know, hanging out with fellow Veterans ‘who get it’ is the REAL reason we host these camps. Venison in the freezer is just the icing on the cake.  And with a new set of scopes for our rifles, we are looking forward to next year.

On November 9th, we were again lucky enough to get access to the Libra Box at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.  We enjoyed a Maine Mariners vs. Adirondack Thunder Hockey Game during their Veterans Appreciation night.  We had 17 Veterans and their families come together for that event.  The seats were great and provided a way to really appreciate the speed of the game at that level and the skill of the players involved.  Seating in the box is fairly limited, so don’t wait to get on the list if we get to go again.  Special thanks to the Libra Foundation for making this possible.

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Kristina was again invited to participate in the annual Ski Spectacular event at Breckenridge, CO December 9-15.  While there, not only did she get to enjoy some early season skiing, but she was also able to work closely with eight Veterans.  Two of them we met at last year’s Biathlon Camp and they joined us again this year.  The rest were basically new to the sport of Nordic Skiing.  One of them was especially enthusiastic and he too joined us for our Biathlon Camp and added an extra level of energy.

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During December and January, VAST brought our sports wheelchairs to Augusta to host (4) WC Basketball Clinics for Veterans at the Travis Mills Foundation Family Retreat.  It is good to see how our equipment can help to level the playing field for Veterans with disabilities not only amongst the Vets, but also between the Vets and their family members.  Some days the games were pretty calm and on others they got pretty raucous with spouses and kids all getting in on the action.  In February, we also got to bring Boccia and Laser Rifles to the S. Paris Veterans’ Home.  As usual, their determination to do well and compete with one another was rewarding to witness.  Many Veterans at 90+ years old were still sharpshooters with the laser rifles!   As this is being written, they are starting a period of limited contact to help control the spread of the Coronavirus.  We all wish them the best of luck and look forward to seeing them again when things return to normal.

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In keeping with our long-standing practice of collaboration with Maine Adaptive Sports, VAST provided the opportunity for Laser Rifle Shooting on January 25 at the Veterans No Boundaries (VNB) Camp in Bethel.  This was a bit of a change for us, because we used to bring WC Basketball to the camp.  However, the rifles provided a calmer event, and gave family members an opportunity for some good shootouts amongst each other. 

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In addition to our regular weekly winter activities, VAST made use of the facilities at the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center in Kingfield for a two-day trip, including one full day on the Nordic Trails at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center.  This was the first time we used either Center and they both proved to be excellent solutions for our needs. The 19 ½ participants and staff (Azura’s baby daughter joined us again) enjoyed the great accommodations, including a big screen broadcast of the Super Bowl, and the wonderful ski trails and conditions.  These same facilities seem to be well-suited for future events such as our Fall Mountain Biking Excursion.  We want to thank the Avangrid Foundation for their generous donation that has allowed us to host these overnight events. 

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The highlight of our winter is of course the Nordic Biathlon Camp.  This year we had a great group of Veterans from around the Country.  Our partners at the Azimuth Check Foundation again generously provided airfare for 2 of out of state Veterans to join us. Many of them were first time skiers, but all of them gave it everything they had.  In the beginning, severe rain threatened to wash out the camp.  But, the availability of alternative traills in Bethel and the heroic efforts of the Pineland Outdoor Center  crew to repair the Pineland trails at Oak Hill gave us some of the best conditions we have had.  We were even able to extend the Camp for an extra day to allow some of the Vets to use the skills they learned during a day of “free” skiing.  Additionally, we got to witness the skills of US Paralympic Nordic Biathlete and Paralympic Gold Medalist, Dan Cnossen as he trained for the upcoming World Cup Games in Sweden after our camp.  In spite of the obstacles we faced, this camp was a true success in every sense of the word.  In the words of one Vet, “The only thing wrong was that it would end and everyone would have to return to reality!”  A huge “THANKS” to the Pineland Staff, the folks at the Bethel Ski Center, Azimuth Check Foundation and all of the many Volunteers that gave so much time and effort to make this possible.