In this week's cover story, "Competitive skiing kept Army veteran Joel Hunt from going downhill," I profile Hunt, an Iraq war vet who's one of the country's most promising skiers with disabilities; he's in the running for the Paralympic Games in Russia next year. But when I first met Hunt while working on a different Westword feature in 2008, he had never been on skis -- and in a video produced at the time by Westword web editor Sean Cronin, the recently discharged soldier described a life in which he seemed to be going nowhere fast.
I was writing a story about Andrew Pogany, a former Special Forces soldier turned veterans advocate. Shadowing Pogany, I was exposed to numerous soldiers struggling with debilitating mental and physical injuries, with few options for help. Their stories were a blur of troubling battlefield memories, long, difficult nights at home and mounting stacks of government paperwork. But one particular veteran stood out: Joel Hunt, recently discharged from Fort Carson because of what superiors deemed chronic pain in his left foot. But it was clear Hunt's foot problem wasn't the only wound he'd brought back from his three deployments to Iraq. From his dramatically slurred speech to his struggles walking to his debilitating mental lapses, here was someone whose suffering was nearly impossible to capture in a few newspaper paragraphs.
That's why Cronin and I produced a video for the piece in which Hunt described his circumstances in his own words. Here it is:
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Watching the piece, it's hard to imagine this is the same person who, five years later, has become a Paralympic superstar and role model for other veterans struggling with injuries. It's a testament to the sort of recovery possible for some of the country's most wounded warriors. But Hunt's turnaround was also due to a wide-ranging team of hardworking supporters and organizations. As Pogany says now of Hunt, "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. It's really sad that people like him have to fight for this. It's a colossal undertaking."
More from our Sports archive circa August 2012: "Echo Mountain to become private Front Range Ski Club after yesterday's auction."