Army Veteran seeks to inspire others through adaptive sports


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Deanna Callender has learned to focus without sight.  In 2007, the Army and Army National Guard Veteran was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease that would eventually take her eyesight. The news was anything but tragic for her.

“As it got worse, it became a blessing,” Callender says. “I truly feel that God chose me for this.”

Despite her near-complete vision loss — she maintains light perception in one eye — the 59-year-old from Minnesota is living her life to the fullest, she says, and wants to set an example for others.

“I was always an athlete and a dancer, and I want to do good things through these adaptive sports. I want to inspire other Veterans.”

Callender will join nearly 400 Veterans from across the country at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colorado, April 1-6. It will be her sixth trip to the clinic. Veterans learn a number of sports and activities at the clinic, including alpine and nordic skiing, rock climbing and scuba diving.

“I hadn’t skied in probably 20 years,” she says of her first experience at the event. “I love it more now than I ever did.”

Callender was introduced to adaptive sports by therapists at Minneapolis VA, who told her about VA’s National Disabled Veterans Training, Exposure and Experience tournament – TEE for short — where visually-impaired Veterans learn to golf.

Putting on the golf course

Deanna Callender on the green at the National Disabled Veterans TEE Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa. Callender says she was introduced to a multitude of adaptive sports opportunities by other Veterans at the tournament.

After attending the TEE tournament for several years she says other Veterans told her about the Winter Sports Clinic and other sports events in Minneapolis. Her favorite thing to do – fishing.

“I’m a real Minnesota girl. We’re the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes,’” she laughs, when asked about her love of fishing. “It’s good for me. It keeps me in one place for more than a minute.”

Since her diagnosis, she estimates she’s learned more than 50 different sports and activities, including: kayaking, goalball, horseback riding, blind baseball, surfing, sailing, archery and whitewater rafting. She says she hopes other Veterans will follow her lead and learn about the possibilities available to disabled athletes.

“Never stop moving. Do not concentrate on anything you cannot do,” she says. “Focus on what you can and then do it.”

About the event: Co-hosted by DAV and VA, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic promotes sports therapy and rehabilitation through adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, rock climbing, wheelchair self-defense, sled hockey, scuba diving and other adaptive sports and activities. The five-day event in Snowmass, Colorado is a world leader in adaptive winter sports instruction for ill and injured Veterans and their families. Be inspired at wintersportsclinic.org.

Author

Mike Molina

Mike Molina is a public affairs specialist with VA’s Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events. He has been a federal public affairs practitioner for nearly 20 years, including serving as public affairs officer at the Jesse Brown VA in Chicago and the Montana VA Health Care System in Helena, Montana. Mike is a Marine Corps Veteran and was an amateur boxer on the All-Marine Boxing Team while stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Comments

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  3. Brent Slensker    

    “Army Veteran seeks to inspire others through adaptive sports” I read this story and was wondering if Deana Callender is receiving disability funds from the Army for having had her degenerative eye disease during service years. I am in debt and struggling and also have a degenerative eye disease. I was wondering if I could file a disability claim?
    Brent Slensker

  4. Tony Carey    

    As a retired disabled Veteran myself , Alpine and Adaptive Ski Instructor I certainly appreciate this article! We at Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports in Mercersburg, PA get many veterans from the DC, VA, MD and PA area. We have a really special lady who’s exactly like this Deana – yes – they are a blessing and it’s so empowering to teach them to ski!
    Every year we have such special wounded veterans who take our breath away. I’m so honored to continue serving with my fellow veterans.
    Thank you Deana for driving on lady! Keep telling the younger ones to keep doing it and keep moving as you say – you’re absolutely right! God bless!
    Mike – nice job capturing this incredible spirit and sharing via this page – I hope more veterans will take advantage of the magnificent benefits offered to them – at our hill we call it oxygenation rehabilitation.

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