Saddle buddies brighten day of disabled vets |

Saddle buddies brighten day of disabled vets

Rick Grozier has straddled lots of horses in his 27 years, but Tuesday afternoon’s ride was something else.

“It was a blast,” said Grozier, who has worked as a cowboy near his hometown of Mesquite, Texas.

It wasn’t just the warm day, which was plenty nice, or the “good” horse Grozier drew, or even a trail that took him under tall trees along the Roaring Fork River.

Grozier has multiple sclerosis, gets around in a wheelchair, and hasn’t been on a horse in years.

The horse he rode on Tuesday was provided by Sopris Therapy Services, along with three handlers who walked alongside.

Grozier is one of 80 disabled military veterans visiting Aspen Equestrian Estates outside Carbondale through Friday as participants in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

The week-long clinic is put on by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans, with the help of corporate sponsors and donors, and is headquartered this year in Snowmass Village.

Through the week, more than 350 disabled veterans and their coaches, families, volunteers and support people are being introduced to numerous adaptive activities and sports, including rock climbing, scuba diving, snowshoeing, trap shooting, fishing, hand cycling, orienteering (for the blind), and horseback riding.

It’s just the kind of action Grozier was looking for.

He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on May 28, 1999. He almost died due to complications from the illness.

“I was in a coma for 42 days,” Grozier said. “They didn’t expect me to wake up.”

Grozier said the coma came on because he was pushing his body so hard, trying not to accept the fact he had MS.

“My immune system was already under attack, and it got lower and lower until my body said `You’re done. We won’t push it any longer.'”

Since being diagnosed with MS, Grozier has been unable to have a job, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t work. “I work every day. It’s work for me to get up every morning and keep moving. So unfortunately, I’m not able to have a job.”

Despite the challenges Grozier faces on a daily basis, he is optimistic, and still thanks God for each day he is given.

“If I wake up tomorrow, and Father, I pray I do, it’s a great day. It doesn’t matter if I’m hurting or have a million and three things on my plate that I don’t want to do. I woke up alive,” he said.

Pam Szedelyi, a volunteer who walked with the horse on Grozier’s ride, said he’s an inspiration. “If we could only bottle that attitude,” Szedelyi said.

Moments later, when Grozier was maneuvering his wheelchair out of the barn and into the sun, she told him, “Where are you going without a hug?” and then leaned over and gave him a big one.

One of the best parts of the ride for the veterans was getting to know Szedelyi and the other volunteers.

“It was fun to go out there,” said Grozier. “They (the volunteers) were good to talk to. They weren’t just guiding the horse.”

Grozier said he skied Monday and plans to go again today. On Thursday he’ll try diving at a Snowmass Village hotel swimming pool. Friday is ski race day.

Grozier said he’d like to take part in the clinic next year, and years after that.

“This is my second year,” said Grozier. “I’ll never quit coming for as long as they’ll let me.”

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