Disabled veterans hit the slopes at Breckenridge this week

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. -- A unique ski event in Breckenridge this week is helping our wounded warriors hit the slopes, many for the very first time.

The Hartford Ski Spectacular provides specialized equipment and ski and snowboard lessons for 800 disabled athletes from across the country. Dozens of those who made the trip to Colorado are disabled vets.

“It’s like a serene feeling,” said Kirstie Ennis, a retired Marine who showed off her snowboard skills on Tuesday.

Seeing Kirstie on the slopes, it would be difficult to tell her first snowboarding lesson took place at the Ski Spectacular just a year ago.

“I had no idea what I was doing," she said with a laugh.

Though snowboarding was new, Kirstie isn't one to shy away from a challenge. She became a Marine and served as a helicopter gunner during her service, but her biggest challenge came when her helicopter went down in Afghanistan in 2012.

“I was, more or less, ripped apart and put back together,” Kirstie said.

Kirstie has gone through 38 surgeries to repair damage to her eyes, ear, shoulder and spine and her next surgeries will remove her left leg below the knee.

“We lift and we wedge my boot because I don’t have the flexion that normal people do,” Kirstie said, showing off her modified snowboard.

Stories like Kirstie's are everywhere this week in Breckenridge. Many people are hitting the slopes and overcoming their disabilities in the process.

Troy Conquest is a retired Marine and 19-year survivor of Lupus and transverse myelitis. On Tuesday he was among many veterans that learned how to navigate the mountain with some specialized equipment and training. He came with a group from the Tampa, Florida VA.

“It’s an opportunity to do something that I wouldn’t normally be able to do, but once you get it done, it’s just like anything else … bigger and better,” Conquest said.

Disabled Sports USA, which hosts the event, also helps provide access to some former service members. The Semper Fi Fund supports the athletes as well and helps some get the equipment they need to train for even bigger goals.

Kirstie and others are now aspiring Paralympians.