Wounded veteran Tom Chaney to get a feel for skis again
Tom Chaney grew up on the western flanks of the Bitterroot Mountains doing what most of the resident population does – enjoy the outdoors.
But traditional winter sports are more difficult for the Port of Entry inspector stationed in Bonners Ferry. He suffered serious head injuries when a mortar exploded in his Balad, Iraq, compound. Inhalation of smoke and fumes also left him with severe asthma and lingering difficulty breathing. He deployed to Iraq in 2005, was injured about seven months later and received a medical discharge later in 2006.
The outdoor sports he enjoyed as a kid in the Princeton-Potlatch area of north-central Idaho appeared to be lost until he learned of an adaptive ski and winter sports program planned at Snowbird Resort, 29 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
Since his medical retirement from the Air Force, Chaney has been active in the Wounded Warriors organization, a program for veterans injured while serving in the military. Counselors contact him monthly for updates.
Through one of those conversations, Chaney was encouraged to apply for a spot in the World T.E.A.M. Sports event planned for Feb. 27-March1 in Utah. He applied and was one of just 15 disabled veterans selected for the special training.
“I didn’t realize only 15 would be chosen, so it was a pretty big surprise,” said Chaney, who joined ITD in 2007. “To me, this is huge. I’d never be able to afford something like this.”
World T.E.A.M. Sports is committed to “changing lives through sports.” It has organized an array of sporting events for veterans (injured and non-injured) the past quarter-century. Veterans are matched with skilled instructors to learn and experience skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other winter activities.
Its sponsored events included a Face of America ride honoring wounded warriors in Washington, D.C., the annual Adventure TEAM Challenge in Colorado, the 2009 Coastal Team Challenge in the Pacific Northwest, and the Sea to Shining Sea cross-country ride for wounded warriors in 2010. That same year, World T.E.A.M. Sports directed the first Soldiers to the Summit, an expedition to Nepal where veterans climbed 20,075-foot Lobuche East near Mount Everest.
“Soldiers to the Summit at Snowbird” was inspired by the mountain-climbing excursion.
“We are very excited to be working with the folks at Snowbird and the Wasatch Adaptive Sports program to be able to bring this exciting event to our nation’s heroes,” said Paul Bremer, the organization’s president. “Soldiers to the Summit at Snowbird will allow wounded warriors to learn and enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowboarding under the professional supervision of the skilled instructors at Snowbird.”
As one of the 15 participants, Chaney will have all expenses paid, including travel, lodging, food and ski lessons. Younger brother Tim will accompany him as a caregiver and will be responsible only for equipment rental.
Getting to the Utah ski resort might be one of the unofficial event challenges. The brothers will drive to Spokane, catch a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, board an American Airlines flight to Salt Lake City, and then drive to Snowbird.
Ironically, the extended flight schedule might take the Chaneys over Utah, where Tom said he could parachute to the ski resort. It would have to be easier than rappelling from a hovering helicopter, he suggests.
American Airlines arranged for the free air transportation. The ski resort and Wasatch Adaptive Sports cover the remaining expenses.
Chaney hopes the experience will enable him to re-learn the outdoor skills he lost because of physical and mental barriers. Old ski equipment remains stored in his closet collecting dust, something he hopes to remedy through the specialized training.
The son of a transitory sawmill worker, he was born in Pullman, Wash., but spent much of his childhood in Princeton, northeast of Moscow. He graduated from Potlatch Junior-Senior High School in 1999.
Chaney enrolled as a freshman at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston where he took core courses as a precursor to potential majors in nursing or mechanics. A year later, he enlisted in the Air Force, and advanced to basic training in San Antonio, before assignments at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque, N.M.
Chaney trained for his Port of Entry position at the Huetter POE and chose the Bonners Ferry POE over another opportunity in Coeur d’Alene to be closer to brother Tim, U.S. Customs inspector at the Porthill border crossing.
The Air Force veteran is married to Michele; they have three children, ages 8, 6 and 5.