Home News Disabilities won’t stop these Naperville vets from skiing, curling and doing other...

Disabilities won’t stop these Naperville vets from skiing, curling and doing other sports at national clinic – Chicago Tribune

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Two Naperville women will be among 400 disabled military veterans from across the country showcasing their athletic abilities at an upcoming sports clinic in Colorado.

For nearly 40 years, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic has been helping nearly 10,000 veterans living with disabilities like traumatic brain injuries, blindness and amputations participate in various sports therapy opportunities.

The annual clinic in Snowmass Village, Colorado, demonstrates the health and rehabilitation benefits that adaptive sports can provide while encouraging veterans to overcome perceived limitations.

Naperville resident Susan Dochterman, 63, took part in a Paralyzed Veterans of America bass fishing tournament in southern Illinois. (Susan Dochterman)
Naperville resident Susan Dochterman, 63, took part in a Paralyzed Veterans of America bass fishing tournament in southern Illinois. (Susan Dochterman)

Known as the “Miracles on a Mountainside,” attendees can take part in adaptive skiing, sled hockey, scuba diving, snowmobiling, rock climbing and other activities with the help of hundreds of volunteers, instructors and recreation therapists.

Naperville residents Susan Dochterman, 63, and Cheryl Gerdes, 57, along with Anthony Woodson, 62, of Bourbonnais, will be representing the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital during this year’s clinic, which begins Monday. Both women hold leadership roles in the local chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America organization, which works to meet the needs and improve the quality of life for disabled veterans.

Dochterman, who served in the Army from 1983 to 1985 and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 32 years ago, said the sports clinic shows that the veterans are not defined by their disabilities.

The staff at the Hines encourages veterans to be active, Dochterman said.

Naperville resident Cheryl Gerdes is the vice president of the Vaughan Chapter Paralyzed Veterans of America event. (Cheryl Gerdes)
Naperville resident Cheryl Gerdes is the vice president of the Vaughan Chapter Paralyzed Veterans of America event. (Cheryl Gerdes)

“I think it builds camaraderie; it gives you a reason to keep going,” she said. “All of us should have something other than going to work or going to church.”

With all the activities the VA offers, she has never been so busy, Dochterman said.

Yet it was only a few years ago, when she was living in Florida, that she realized she hadn’t been using her veterans’ benefits. There she discovered she could not only utilize the VA hospital for medical care but for social activities, like the golf tournament they invited her to attend. After moving to Naperville in 2021, she has taken part in other activities, including trap shooting, fishing and bowling tournaments.

In Colorado, she plans to participate in cross country skiing and snowmobiling and will be visiting a natural spring.

Gerdes, who has previously skied in Europe, New Mexico and Lake Tahoe, California, said she has not taken to the slopes since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012.

She is looking forward to seeing what her current body can do.

“Life goes on and I can still enjoy and do things,” Gerdes said.

In addition to skiing, she also plans to participate in snowmobiling and curling.

“It’s going to be exciting,” she said. “I’m a little nervous when looking at the challenges, but excited about doing them and doing them well.”

Gerdes, an Army captain who served from 1989 to 1996 and participated in the Persian Gulf War, said she is especially looking forward to seeing other veterans and networking.

Dochterman agreed that socializing with other veterans will be one of the trip’s highlights.

Naperville resident Susan Dochterman, a disabled military vet, is seen here with her children, Hannah and Chad, in Central Park in New York City. (Susan Dochterman)
Naperville resident Susan Dochterman, a disabled military vet, is seen here with her children, Hannah and Chad, in Central Park in New York City. (Susan Dochterman)

“I can’t wait to meet my brothers and sisters in arms,” she said.

And she looks forward to cheering them on in all their activities.

“We all have a story to tell,” Dochterman said. “We have more in common than we are different. We need to embrace that.

“Since I connected with the VA, they are family,” she said. “They treat people so well.”

The sports clinic, which is co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Disabled American Veterans, hosted 90 disabled veterans when it began in 1987. The therapeutic outdoor experiences help with veterans’ overall physical well-being as well as their mental health and self-esteem.

Area veterans interested in joining the Hines Adaptive Sports Program can call 708-202-3631 for information.

Michelle Mullins is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.



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