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Ski outing lifts spirits

By Steve Lipsher
Denver Post Mountain Bureau

Dec. 8 - Stephanie Munson's biggest fear Tuesday was merely getting off the ski lift, a far cry from fearing for her life at Columbine High School in April.

"This is fun, which makes a big difference in our lives right now,'' said the teen's father, Larry, pausing between ski runs and watching his entire brood on the slopes.

Stephanie, who was shot in the left ankle, and senior classmate Brian Anderson, who was shot in the chest, were the first two Columbine survivors to take to the slopes in this week's Hartford Ski Spectacular, a huge annual gathering of disabled skiers and instructors.

"I kind of feel bad because I don't have a disability, and I see all the people in wheelchairs doing these incredible things,'' 17-year-old Stephanie said. "But this is a lot of fun, and I'm getting to snowboard.''

Which is exactly the purpose of the event, said organizer Kirk Bauer, director of Disabled Sports USA.

"The Columbine shootings have been a terrible blow to those who were injured, their families and their community,'' he said. "There's both an emotional and a physical element to the rehabilitation.''

As the organization has done with Gulf War veterans, land-mine victims and survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing, it has lured nine injured Columbine students to the slopes for a complete respite.

"What got me hooked on rehabilitation programs is it turns people around,'' said Bauer, who lost a leg in Vietnam. "It gets them thinking about the possibilities instead of dwelling on what happened to them.''

While 17-year-old Brian Anderson, an experienced snowboarder, is enjoying a free week on the slopes with his stepfather and brother, Stephanie Munson decided it was the perfect time to pick up snowboarding.

"I've been skiing since I was 3 . . . and I've been trying to go snowboarding, but haven't had the chance,'' she said, watching her 3-year-old brother snowplow down the slopes in a nearby ski lesson.

Under the patient guidance of Disabled Sports USA instructor Bobby Palm on her second day, Stephanie ventured from runs on the bunny hill all the way to the top of Peak 9, from holding his hand to independently steering her board.

"That was a real biff,'' she said, giggling as she lay in the snow after a faceplant.

From a nearby group lesson, one of Stephanie's younger sisters, Jennifer, teased her about her frequent falls.

Jennifer, 14, was in the Columbine cafeteria during the April 20 rampage, and penned a poem that is attached to stuffed bears being sold by Kids Kreations to aid wounded Columbine students.

"We'll never forget that one sad day,'' she wrote. "So many dreams flew away. A day of tragedy, a day of fear. A day of uniting, far and near.''

Their father said the entire family remains in counseling, and he admitted having vivid nightmares following the shooting, but noted that fun outings such as the ski trip were remarkably therapeutic.

"This is something special, that these people invited us up like this,'' Larry Munson said.

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