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Survivors use skiing as therapy

By Joe Garner
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

 

BRECKENRIDGE -- Stephanie Munson is learning to snowboard "goofy" -- with her right leg forward instead of her left.

Most snowboarders lead with their left leg, but Munson's left leg aches in the cold. The 17-year-old senior was shot in the left shin April 20 as she ran from the carnage at Columbine High School. The bullet passed through her leg, leaving two scars that sap her endurance.

Munson and eight more of the two dozen school shooting victims are skiing and snowboarding this week at Breckenridge. They are guests of Disabled Sports USA at the nation's largest winter sports festival for disabled people, the Hartford Ski Spectacular.

"I don't really have a disability, when you look at the guys going downhill in a monoski," Munson said during a lesson break Tuesday. "My instructor didn't even know I'd been shot until I told him why my left leg hurt."

But disabilities take different forms and require the mind to cope in individual ways, said Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA.

"Most of the Columbine kids who are coming up this week do not have a visible disability, and they do not see themselves as disabled skiers," said Bauer, 51, who lost his left leg 30 years ago in a hand-grenade explosion in Vietnam. "But they have suffered the emotional trauma of being shot at, and they need to heal."

Certainly, Makai Hall, another 17-year-old Columbine senior on the slopes Tuesday, doesn't consider himself disabled from gunshot wounds that hospitalized him three days after the assault on the school.

"I'm pretty well healed physically, but mentally it's a longer process," he said.

He said his grades "are not all that great this year" because of trouble focusing on classwork.

"When you're skiing, you're forced to focus," he said. "I'm hoping that (the ability to concentrate) will come back with me to Columbine and help me with finals next week."

Skiing also is a time for the Columbine shooting survivors to assert their recovery and independence.

"The adults are the ones stuck on the shootings," Munson said. "We just want to go on with our lives, and we do. But the adults keep bringing it up because they aren't in control any more, and they know it."

December 8, 1999