Maybe that extra confidence was why, this season, Hunt felt ready to make the move to a new program: the Paralympic Alpine Development Program-Aspen, the first alpine skiing training program associated with the U.S. Paralympics. Since 1988, the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games have followed the regular Olympics games. In the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, more than 500 athletes from 44 nations competed in five sports: biathlon, cross-country skiing, wheelchair curling, sledge hockey and alpine skiing. And the Aspen development program is all about getting disabled athletes ready to take home alpine medals in 2014 in Russia.

Hunt hopes to be among the winners. All this season in Aspen, he's been working on racing on the edge of his skis, figuring out on which gate poles he needs to go wide. At times his left leg is such a hassle that he wonders if it would be better to have it removed and race as an amputee, using either a single monoski device or a prosthetic device.

But despite these doubts, his hard work is paying off. Hunt is in the running for the U.S. Paralympic team, as evidenced by the fact that he was just notified that he'll be subjected to regular drug tests by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. If he skis well enough in certain key races between now and next January, he could be going to Russia as the first Paralympic skier with a TBI.

Barrett Stein, his coach in Aspen, thinks it will happen. "He doesn't give up," he says of Hunt. "He is going and going, and he is skiing so well right now."

The biggest concern, he adds, is that Hunt he might get hurt along the way. "He gives 120 percent every time," says Stein. "He crashes a lot."

Maybe he's scared about what might catch up to him if he ever slows down.

***********

Turn right. Stop. Turn left."

Hunt is navigating a metro Super Target with his service dog, Barrett, while a representative of Freedom Service Dogs follows behind with a clipboard, grading Barrett's ability to steer Hunt through the aisles of lamps and picture frames. It's two days before the start of the Wells Fargo Ski Cup, and Hunt is briefly back in Denver, having left the Aspen training program early in order to squeeze in as many errands as possible before he embarks on a whirlwind tour of ski races, all paid for by Operation Rebound. There's the upcoming fundraiser in Winter Park, for example, followed by events in Park City, Utah; Stowe, Vermont; and Quebec, Canada.

Among his chores is re-certifying his service dog for another year. Freedom Service Dogs paired Hunt and Barrett last March, and since then, they've become inseparable. "That dog is just like a big brother," says Hunt's father, David. "That dog is probably as close to him as anybody I have seen." Like all canines from Freedom Service Dogs, Barrett, a golden retriever-Labrador mix, was a rescue dog trained to work with clients with disabilities. As a puppy, Barrett was stuffed in a pillowcase and thrown in a river, nearly drowning before he was rescued and taken to an animal shelter. On his camouflage-colored harness, Barrett wears a patch emblazoned with one of Hunt's favorite sayings: "Tough times don't last, tough people do."

The same applies to tough dogs.

"Good job," Hunt says to Barrett after he aces the test, having ignored the little kids shouting "Doggie!" from a shopping cart and gently nudging Hunt's hand when he pretends to accidentally let go of his leash. Hunt holds his palm up for a celebratory high-five, and Barrett leaps up and touches it with his nose. Hunt isn't surprised by Barrett's results; the dog does everything well. Thanks to a metal handle attached to his harness, Barrett functions as a four-legged walking cane and positions himself to cushion Hunt if he stumbles during one of his infrequent dizzy spells or blackouts. According to Hunt, Barrett can even iron and fold clothes. And there are other things Barrett does that can't be graded on a certification test. "You can't teach a service dog to deal with someone with PTSD," says Hunt. "You just have to bond with him." When Hunt's at home, Barrett sleeps at the foot of his bed. When he's racing, Barrett waits at the finish line with a friend or colleague, and at night the two share a hotel bed.

Freedom Service Dogs isn't the only non-skiing support program Hunt is using. Last winter, at an NSCD event at Winter Park, he connected with James Ball, founder of the Minnesota nonprofit Tee it Up for the Troops. After hearing Hunt's story, Ball arranged for him to receive a free set of clubs and private golf lessons. "I told him, 'Now there might be another chapter in your life,'" says Ball. "'You might find it on the golf course.'" Hunt took to golf like he'd taken to skiing: The swing of the club and the click of it connecting with the ball reminded him of squeezing the trigger of his old service rifle. By the third day, he was driving the ball to the green.

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1 comments
Joel H-train Hunt
Joel H-train Hunt

How do I get copies since I'm in Utah for competition would like to give out copies to the TBI camp I'm mentoring next month???

 
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