But even more than golf and skiing, Hunt has embraced his role as an advocate. He doesn't have a job, and spends most of his time volunteering for one organization or another. "My main goal in life other than making the Olympics is to create opportunities for soldiers that didn't exist for me," he says. "Helping people kind of helped me. It built my confidence up."

The once-homebound loner crafted the story of his recovery into a speech, "My Life From the Ski Lift," which he recites at events every chance he gets. "I wished that I had died in Iraq rather than face the difficulties of my situation," he tells his audience. But now, he adds, he hopes to become "the best skier in the world," to show "that if a regular guy like me can make it, anybody can make it."

With a speech like that, Hunt says with a smile, "I make grown men cry."

Hunt volunteers at schools, teaching children about disabilities. As an unpaid liaison for Operation Rebound, he's also arranged veteran excursions ranging from a skydiving trip that made headlines on CNN to a visit to Broncos training camp, where he heard Peyton Manning utter a line that's become another mantra: "Just play well, and the scoreboard will speak for itself." He started an "Operation Freedom" Facebook group to let veterans know about special military memberships at Sam's Club and trips he was organizing to Water World and Comedy Works, to help "individuals who, like me, are trapped in a dark room with no friends, no family and almost giving up on life." And after he realized that his father's longtime introversion and stubbornness were symptoms of PTSD from his military service in Vietnam, he convinced him to get checked out by the VA. David Hunt ended up with a 40 percent disability rating, too.

Seeing where Joel Hunt is now, it's hard for ex-Wounded Warrior Advocate Christine Cook to imagine that this is the same guy who launched her "covert drawer" caseload. "Joel's transition is really almost miraculous," she says. "Who would have thought this three-combat warrior who was blown up countless times would be where he is right now, such a rock star?"

Andrew Pogany agrees that Hunt's recovery since their initial meeting in 2008 has been inspirational. But Hunt's story also illustrates just how much work is often needed to get such soldiers out of their dark place, out of their trough. By this point, he says, Hunt has probably received nearly $250,000 worth of services. "Unfortunately, first we have to find people like Joel. And people have to pretty much work round the clock, on on-on-one assistance with them in navigating the system, in order to overcome the obstacles they will encounter," says Pogany. "It's really sad that people like him have to fight for this. It's a colossal undertaking."

And for Hunt, some obstacles remain.

In 2011, on the day of his wedding to Turgeon, Hunt learned that his mom had pancreatic cancer. He pulled all the strings he could to ensure that she'd be alive to see him receive his Purple Heart, which he'd become eligible for that year when the Pentagon changed the medal's standards to accommodate brain injuries. His efforts paid off: The retired general assigned to pin on Hunt's Purple Heart during a ceremony in early 2012 "looked like I had kicked him in the balls" when Hunt said he wanted his mom to do the honors instead, Hunt remembers. But dealing with his mother's illness and Army bureaucracy was distracting. And at a January 11, 2012, race in New Hampshire, he was so distracted that he crashed, fracturing his T9 vertebra. He was out for the rest of the season.

"With PTSD, it's like eating four candy bars and drinking nine Mountain Dews," he says. Without skiing, and with all that internal energy built up, he fell back into the trough. And one night while Turgeon was working late, Hunt sat on his bed with a full bottle of Percocet in his hand. If Barrett hadn't come over, hadn't put his paw in his lap and looked at him, Hunt says, he probably would have swallowed all the pain meds.

Life has gotten better since then. Learning to play golf has helped, as has working with the Aspen Paralympic training program. And when his mother passed away last October, he recommitted to his goal. "When I started this, I wasn't worried about the Paralympics, just worried about skiing and rehabilitation," he says. "After my mom died, it changed. It's almost like I'm skiing for her. Her dream before she died was for me to go to the Paralympics. And now I don't see it not happening."

But no matter how hard he works, no matter how fast he goes, sometimes a bad dream catches him in the middle of the night. He's in the middle of a field in Iraq, and he sees Brock. When Hunt puts his hand on his friend's shoulder, Brock turns around. His throat is slit open.

"Why did you leave me?" he asks.

***********

Joel Hunt once again steps into the start gate at the Wells Fargo Ski Cup course. This time he's wearing his professional racing outfit, not his Captain America suit. It's the day after the DaVita Corporate Cup, and this race is part of a separate Ski Cup event, the World Disabled Invitational, in which some of the best disabled skiers in the world compete. This isn't the place for Halloween costumes.

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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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