When you see Kevin Pannell hitting the slopes at Mount Hood Meadows, just outside of Portland, Oregon, you’d have no idea the seasoned snowboarder, who was awarded a Purple Heart in Iraq, is a double amputee. 

On June 13, 2004, Halfway through his second tour of duty in what he says had been a “pretty uneventful Army career,” the sergeant from Arkansas was working security on a routine mission in Baghdad when it all changed. 

Pannell knew immediately that something was wrong when his unit turned down an alleyway and he heard the distinct and familiar sound of grenades. “I heard 3 pops and knew the sound well,” he says. After seeing one fly over his shoulder, Pannell turned to warn the rest of his patrol, but milliseconds later, two grenades rolled under his feet and exploded.

The Veteran’s Administration, along with city and regional nonprofits across the country are using adaptive sports to help veterans heal. Pannell, a triathlete who participates in a number of adaptive sports, is one of a growing number of wounded veterans who are returning home and using sports as a tool to recover from their injuries and reintegrate after being deployed overseas.

Patty Prather, a recreation therapist who works in Adaptive Recreation at the City of Eugene got involved with disabled veterans after helping lead a snowshoeing trip to Crater Lake two years ago. “It was pretty life changing,” she says, “to be able to work with a group of folks who really don’t have the opportunities to get outdoors and know how to do things in an adaptive way or recreate with their families the way they used to.”

She says that while the veterans she works with in Southern Oregon come from different branches of military service, they all share a common bond from their experiences and often feel safer around each other rather than the general public. 

“We encourage each other and have a camaraderie. These guys have experienced the same thing I have,” says Ree McSween, a Desert Storm US Coastguard veteran, explaining the importance of adaptive sports with other vets. “If I’m experiencing a PTSD moment, they understand it—they get it,” she says.

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