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Hiking for hope: Basalt man pursues ambitious goal to raise funds, awareness for mental health issues

Steven Fotion, left, Shannon von Driska, on FaceTime, and Assaf Dory will be climbing Mt. Elbert in September with a fourth teammate, Wong Dash, and are raising money and awareness for their cause on Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Basalt resident Assaf Dory isn’t going to let the loss of a leg prevent him from climbing Colorado’s highest peak.

Dory will team with three other military veterans who are facing severe injuries to climb Mt. Elbert in September to raise funds for Challenge America and build awareness for mental health issues, particularly among military veterans, first responders and people dealing with social isolation.

Dory is well known in Basalt for his positive attitude and involvement in civic issues. He is easily recognizable because he is a big, strong fella with an easy smile who is often seen around town in a wheelchair or walking with crutches.

Given his affable nature and positive attitude, it was a bombshell Tuesday when he revealed to the Basalt Town Council the severity of issues he is facing from his leg injury. The topic came about while he was outlining the Mt. Elbert fundraiser.

Dory, 50, said he has endured 45 surgeries on his leg after suffering an injury while on duty as a deputy sheriff in Florida 17 years ago. He is suffering from complex regional pain syndrome, a rare disorder of the nervous system as a result of the trauma to the leg.

“There’s nothing you can really do about this disease,” Dory told the council. “It’s known as the suicide disease. I’ve been dealing with it for a long time.

“I’ve been dealing with suicidal thoughts and how to battle that. I’m blessed to have a daughter that’s 12 years old. All this time dealing with 45 surgeries, I’ve been focused on my daughter and to be able to walk with her hand in hand. I was able to do that about three months ago and I found myself crying.”

A couple of days later, he said, he asked himself what was the next big goal in his life. He came up with the idea of the Mt. Elbert Challenge. He aims to hike the 4.3-mile North Elbert Trail that has an elevation gain of 4,400 to the summit of 14,433. He will be joined by Shannon von Driska, Steven Fotion and Dash Wong.

Their goal, Dory said, is to show “with friends and family, we can overcome any mountain.”

Von Driska, 33, broke her ankle and leg in 2007 while training to be a U.S. Army medic. After a fourth surgery, which was supposed to be routine, she was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome. She said she faces prolonged physical and mental health issues from the cumulative impact of her experiences in the military. She is a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, and befriended Dory through an online support group for people battling CRPS.

Wong is a former Navy SEAL who served on multiple combat deployments. He retired from the military after 16 years after losing his right lung to cancer. The Roaring Fork Valley resident was diagnosed earlier this year with COVID-19 and suffered 40 percent scar tissue damage to his remaining lung.

Fotion, a general contractor in the valley, is also a competitive strongman and bodybuilder as well as a personal trainer who has taken a particular interest in working with people with disabilities. Fotion, who spent six years in the U.S. Army Reserve, is a friend and trainer of Dory. Fotion gained a new perspective on dealing with disabilities in January when he suffered a catastrophic injury to both quadriceps tendons during a competition. He is slowly recovering from the muscle detachments.

Von Driska has the challenge of not only dealing with CRPS but also acclimating so she can undertake the climb at high elevation. She’s undaunted. She said she signed up as soon as Dory told her about it. She wants to build awareness of the mental issues that military veterans face, often because of post-traumatic stress disorder. She wants to build awareness among vets that it is acceptable and beneficial to seek help. The Mountain Elbert Challenge can bring the issues to light.

“It will show that when you work together, you can accomplish anything,” she said.

Steven Fotion, left, Shannon von Driska, and Assaf Dory share a laugh when discussing their upcoming Mt. Elbert Challenge and the training leading up to it on Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Dory also has an interest in helping veterans. He was born and raised in Israel and served as a staff sergeant in the Israeli Defense Forces during the first Gulf War. He moved to the United States in 1992 and was injured in the line of duty.

Dory said he and von Driska know they will pay a particular price climbing to Mt. Elbert.

“For a week we will be bedridden. That’s the price we will pay,” he said.

His right leg was amputated above the knee. He is one of the first civilians to have gone through a procedure that directly connects the prosthetic to his endoskeletal system. Von Driska asked him about having her injured leg amputated to try to ease the CRPS she endures. She decided against it.

“It’s living with nonstop pain,” she said. “Yes, it’s rare but it’s a killer. That’s why it’s called the suicide disease.”

After her final surgery, she said, it felt like her ankle was going to explode. The procedure triggered the malfunction of her nervous system. It extends beyond her damaged limb.

“If the wind goes against your skin, it’s excruciating,” von Driska said. “It’s a daily battle.”

It is hard for family and friends to understand what’s going on because it is a mostly invisible problem, she said. She is often bedridden.

Dory said he has had stimulators installed in his body to block nerve signals from his “stump” to his brain. Nevertheless, he regularly is affected by “flares” that spread beyond his phantom limb. At times, he explained, it might feel like somebody threw acid on his face. He also experiences convulsions, sores and period where he cannot see or hear.

On Thursday, he was relieved to have slept six hours the night before. Prior to that, he had gone 60 hours without sleep because of the pain.

So what constitutes a good day?

“I’m very big about the little things,” von Driska said. Being able to do the laundry or take a walk is huge.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” Driska said. “If we sleep, that’s the best f—ing day ever.”

Dory added, “Shannon nailed it — the small stuff.”

He stressed they don’t want pity, just awareness and understanding. Von Driska said she has lost of lot of friends from the military to suicide. Experiencing CRPS and PTSD has given her insights into their experiences. She is determined to do what she can to promote greater understanding of mental health issues and getting over the shame of stigma of seeking help.

“You can be hardcore and still talk about mental health,” she said.

Fotion said he cannot fathom the issues his three hiking colleagues are facing. He finds them inspiring, so he wanted to show his support by accompanying them on the Mt. Elbert Challenge.

They will train throughout the summer, increasing the distances and difficulty of hikes. They have hired Aspen Mountain Guides for help in training and on the challenge. They are also relying on numerous friends and supporters as “Sherpa” to haul food and gear up Mt. Elbert for them. The helpers include Chief Greg Knott and Lt. Aaron Munch of Basalt Police Department and division chief Richard Cornelius of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue.

Dory said it will require about $30,000 for training and the challenge itself. They set a goal to raise at least $118,000. The balance will go to Challenge America, where Dory volunteers. (See the fact box on how to contribute.)

Challenge America is a Basalt-based nonprofit organization that utilizes technology and creative arts to improve the lives of veterans and their families. Dory said it is a particularly effective organization because 83 cents of every $1 donation goes to programs.

For all four climbers, Sept. 15 is a special goal that they cannot wait to tackle.

“I needed that goal. I need something,” von Driska said.

When asked how they will accomplish that goal given their physical injuries, Dory said, “One step at a time. We’re going to crush it.”

How to help

The Mt. Elbert Challenge is off to a good start for fundraising. So far, 17 donors have contributed nearly $8,200. The goal is at least $118,000.

Learn more about the Mt. Elbert Project and donate at https://mtelbert.funraise.org/.


ValleyOrtho highlights cycling safety: free seminar to cover injury prevention

Dr. Mark Purnell from ValleyOrtho

May is National Bike Month and ValleyOrtho plans to kick it off with an educational webinar about staying safe while riding. A news release from April 20 states that Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Mark Purnell will be presenting a webinar called “Common Biking Injuries and How To Prevent Them.”

“After the snow has melted and the trails have dried, road and mountain biking become a great way to stay active. As many begin to plan their bike routes or long-distance rides for warmer weather, participants will learn how to make the most of biking season during this virtual event,” the release states.

The webinar will consist of a 20-minute discussion and then time for a Q&A with Dr. Purnell. It is free to participate in the session that will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 5 over Zoom. The release states Purnell’s experience has given him valuable insight to sports medicine, treating and preventing injuries.

“Dr. Purnell is a longstanding orthopedic surgeon in the Roaring Fork Valley and specializes in reconstruction and repair of chronic and acute knee injuries, lower extremity trauma and sports medicine,” the release states.

Participants can register for the event at this link https://vvh.zoom.us/webinar/register/1916119542836/WN_JP5ojkqXR_eGSGbzic4N6g.

Mind Springs Health moves into new South Grand facility

Mental health and addiction recovery services provided by Mind Springs Health are now more conveniently located after the organization’s move this week into its new South Grand Avenue location in Glenwood Springs.

Mind Springs in late 2019 purchased the former motorsports dealership and antique mall property at 2802 S. Grand, just south of Berthod Motors.

The 8,500 square feet of renovated space replaces the former long-time Mind Springs clinic location on Colorado Highway 82 between Glenwood and Carbondale.

“The staff here is incredibly excited for this new location and what it means for our clients,” Hans Lutgring, outpatient program director for Mind Springs’ Glenwood area services, said in a news release announcing the move.

The entire building has 16,000 square feet of space. The remainder of that space is being held in reserve for a planned new alcohol and drug detoxification facility that area hospitals, police agencies and government entities have been busy planning for and identifying funding to build.

For now, the facility houses one staff psychiatrist, eight clinicians, five case managers, the program director, marketing staff and the new Mind Springs Foundation.

Lutgring noted that the facility is ADA compliant, and the location is near the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s 27th Street Station, making it convenient for bus commuters.

“Not only is the building more accessible, but the space provides more individual offices for therapists to meet with their clients in the spacious group therapy rooms,” he said. “We also have space for therapists to conduct virtual therapy sessions with clients, as we understand that more and more clients are becoming accustomed to, and even prefer, virtual therapy.”

Mind Springs is based in both Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, with clinics in different communities across the region and the West Springs Hospital in Grand Junction.

The Mind Springs Foundation was formed last year to serve as the philanthropic arm of the organization, explained Stephanie Keister, public relations manager for Mind Springs.

The foundation’s staff of three are also housed in the new Glenwood Springs facility, and will be focused on raising funds for various capital projects, including the new women’s recovery center in Grand Junction, Keister said.

The new Mind Springs office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and can be reached at 970-945-2853 (Spanish-speaking line is 970-683-7289).

Recovery team mobilized

Meanwhile, another relatively new service of Mind Springs Health is proving to be successful in battling alcohol and drug addiction, including within the local homeless population.

The Mobile Recover Team is a group of mental healthcare professionals, including case managers and peer specialists, who work to provide immediate assistance to people in crisis due to substance use. That can include getting them connected to treatment services, as well as housing, food and employment assistance, according to a news release.

Since its formation last year, the Mobile Recovery Team has already had 61 referrals between Carbondale and Parachute, and 34% of those referrals have resulted in getting people into treatment, the release stated.

“The people we work with are often in very vulnerable positions,” said Anne Edgecomb, program coordinator for the Garfield County Mobile Recovery Team.

Referrals often come from hospitals, law enforcement agencies or local support agencies, she said.

“Slightly more than 50 percent of our clients are homeless at the time of engagement, and we often go where they are to provide guidance,” Edgecomb said. “That may be the hospital emergency room, the steps of the library where they’re hanging out during the day, a grocery store parking lot, or their home.”

Some of the people who are referred decline assistance, she said.

“Others do become engaged in treatment or are referred to another program that will help them on their path to wellness,” Edgecomb said. “Sometimes, all someone needs is another person who cares enough to help connect them to the resources that are available, with compassion and empathy.”

For more information, call 970-384-4034 or email mobilerecoveryteam@mindspringshealth.org.


Nueva clase de baile en Carbondale diseñando a enseñar los preadolescentes sobre salud mental y procesamiento emocional entre movimiento


Carbondale's Shake It Off dance class offers an outlet for tweens to express themselves and process emotions.

Este jueves fue la primera vez Alissa Rae Hill, una maestra de movimiento para el Dance Initiative de Carbondale con experiencia en pilates, se encontró con su virtual Shake it Off clase de baile para preadolescentes que tienen 9-13 años.

“Pienso que es muy importante, especialmente como una persona joven, a aprender sobre salud mental y cómo podemos usar nuestros cuerpos y se mueven a sentirnos mejor, para poder procesar la vid…esta es una cosa no necesariamente hablamos sobre pero todos de nosotros tenemos momentos de lucha con ligera depresión o ansiedad,” Hill dijo.

La clase actualmente tiene tres estudiantes inscritos, pero Megan Janssen, la Directora Ejecutiva de Dance Initiative, dijo que la inscripción quedará abierta hasta este próximo jueves, enero 29 en un esfuerzo a hacer estos técnicos de alivio del estrés lo más accesible posible para niños locales.

“Debemos permitir estudiantes a inscribirse después de la primera semana, pero después de esto probablemente lo limitamos porque Alissa y Claudia están tratando de crear como un espacio seguro así ellas quieren que todos los que van estar alli estan alli dentro el primer dos semanas,” Janssen dijo.

La clase tiene la intención de tener elementos terapéuticos y ofrecer un espacio seguro para que los estudiantes compartan sobre sus vidas y proveer herramientas en cómo procesar emociones difíciles. Hill dijo que será un elemento juguetón en la clase y a veces cuando los estudiantes apagan sus cámaras y encuentran movimiento que ayúdanos a sentir bien cuando nadie está mirando.

“A veces es solo silencioso y donde todos se apagan sus pantallas, y quiero que te muevas…no te preocupes sobre alguien ver tu, solo mover para ti,” Hill dijo.

Janssen dijo que la esperanza es para enfatizar la confidencialidad y la autonomía estudiantes tienen todo lo posible. La clase también un enfoque salud mental en una manera que tiene la intención a no ser intimidante pero empoderador a los niños como serán más familiares con la conciencia plena y técnicas para procesar emociones en una manera fiable y física.

“(Alissa enseñara) algunas maneras rápidas a usando movimiento para poder calmarse si estás muy enojado o muy triste porque tu cuerpo manda un señal ruido … es una combinación de la clase será divertida a tenera música divertida además de realmente entendido como conocer su cuerpo un poco más,” Janssen dijo.

Claudia Pawl es la traductora del idioma español que será enseñada en la clase en asociación con Hill. Ofreciendo un diálogo de español e inglés es una otra manera para expandir la gama de estudiantes que tenían interés en inscribirse.

“La clase es bilingüe, que significa que el contenido está interpretado en el tiempo real y todo diciendo esta dijo en los dos idiomas…soy una traductora profesional y como tal, estamos entrenado no solo expresa la mensaje pero también a veces funciona como una agente de culturales y asegurar entendiendo en los dos lados esta logró,” Pawl escribió en un correo electrónico.

Mezcla Social Dance es una compañía de baile que pertenece a Pawl y tiene seis años. La enfoque primaria de la compañía es bailes Latinas como Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Cumbia y Zouk Brasileño, para mencionar algunos. Pawl se reúne con Hill para transducir e incluir elementos de estos bailes dentro la clase.

“Para la clase de Shake It Off estudiantes pueden esperar clases de una hora cada semana primaria llevado por Alissa con la incorporación de Pilates, yoga, movimiento guiado, escrito en un diario y trabajo de la respiración con un poco de movimiento divertido de baile latino,” Pawl escribió.

Actualmente, solo hay chicas que se inscriben en el curso pero Hill dijo que todos personas dentro de la gama de edad son bienvenidos. Hill dijo que la clase beneficiaría a todos porque aunque los cerebros y cuerpos de individuos funcionan en maneras diferentes, salud mental es una cosa en común que todos compartir y siempre tiene margen de mejorar.

“Siento que es abierto a humanos,” Hill dijo. “Este es una cosa universal y humano estamos aprendido y hablado sobre, y aunque es posible identificas como un género diferente de lo que primario está en el clase ahora, todavía tienes cerebro, tu salud mental todavía es importante, y como juntarse en esta manera hay un modo podemos construir conciencia y compasión para sus mismos e el uno para el otro.”

No hay un máximo número de estudiantes que pueden inscribirse para la clase, pero cerrará dentro la semana segunda en orden a mantener un ambiente constante, Janssen dijo. Las becas también están disponibles para estudiantes y Janssen dijo que el Dance Initiative no quiere rechazar a cualquiera que tiene interés.

“Es una edad realmente particular cuando niños están empezando a moverse cerca a la edad adulta y siendo los adolescentes. (Ellos están empezando tener) opiniones fuertes y (están) aprendido más sobre su identidad, y realmente pienso que ellos necesitan una variedad de herramientas para ayudarles expresarse…lo siendo como una edad realmente importante,” Janssen dijo.

Para inscribirse a la clase ir a este sitio y para preguntar sobre las becas manda un correo a Janssen al megan@danceinitiative.org.