NEWRY — From all outward appearances, Tyler Kurth looked and acted like a Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation volunteer on Friday at Sunday River Ski Resort.
Dressed head to toe in black, Kurth, 28, even wore a bright orange “Guide” vest while helping volunteer Kathy Kroll with her blind skier brother, Carl Kroll.
However, Kurth is one of 26 disabled veterans and active-duty military persons participating with their families in Maine Adaptive’s seventh annual Veterans/No Boundaries program this weekend.
A retired captain with the 10th Mountain Division, he now works with the Wounded Warrior Unit at Fort Drum in Watertown, N.Y.
With the Krolls’ assistance and that of their daughter, Army Medical Specialty Corps Capt. Kirsten Kroll of Fort Drum, Kurth also helped bring Fort Drum soldiers to Newry.
The Krolls were teaching Kurth how to guide a visually impaired skier. It was only his third time on skis; he learned how at last year’s program.
“He is good,” Kathy Kroll said. “I can’t keep up with him.”
Like many of the participating veterans, Kurth is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical limitations.
During a patrol on Oct. 2, 2009, with Afghan police in Afghanistan, Kurth was shot three times — in the right leg, right chest and right shoulder — from 4 feet away by an Afghan officer armed with an AK-47 assault rifle.
Kurth used his body to shield a soldier behind him, then saved the lives of two other soldiers and called for help.
Two soldiers were killed, while Kurth and two other soldiers were severely wounded. It was the first such attack of its kind by previously trusted Afghan nationals they’d trained, he said.
For his actions that day, Kurth has been nominated for the Medal of Honor. But on Friday, he just wanted to enjoy Maine Adaptive’s program.
“It’s very relaxing and the people are nice,” he said.
“We try to encourage a lot of Fort Drum soldiers to come, because of something I learned when I got injured.
“If you sit at home and dwell on what happened, you don’t progress at all in your rehabilitation,” Kurth said.
That’s why participating in events such as Veterans/No Boundaries is so important. Veterans connect with other veterans — whether they are participating or volunteering, he said.
“There’s a lot of healing that takes place on this mountain,” Kathy Kroll said. “It doesn’t stop with rehab or hospitals. When you connect someone back to life, then you’ve done your job.”
“Exactly,” Kurth said. “It’s hard to find something you like again, because nothing seems fun. I watched my two best friends get murdered that day, so that’s a very hard thing to get over.”
Retired Navy Seabee Richard L. Rubino, 52, of Aurora, Mo., agreed.
He suffered back and neck injuries and PTSD in 2003 in Iraq.
Rubino helped build schools, worked at mass grave sites, and tried unsuccessfully one day to save the lives of four Marines, who drowned when their helicopter crashed into a canal and sank.
Friday was Rubino’s debut at skiing with Maine Adaptive. It was also a first for his nephew, Max Leverich, a Marine veteran whom Rubino joined for the trip, thanks to the Hope For The Warriors program.
“It helped a lot to build my confidence and it takes some of the stress away from the PTSD,” Rubino said of skiing.
Leverich, 25, also of Aurora, served as a sniper and in security and stabilization operations in Fallujah during the Iraq War in 2006-07.
While providing over-fire one day as a turret gunner in a Humvee for injured soldiers he’d helped stitch up and tried to evacuate, the truck ran over a roadside bomb in an ambush.
It was then blasted by a rocket-propelled grenade and automatic rifle fire. The explosions blew Leverich right out of the Humvee. He suffered nerve damage in his back and legs.
Like his uncle, Friday was his first time skiing.
“It’s great,” he said of Maine Adaptive. “It’s really a good program. It’s good recreation and you’re challenged by positive things and it’s got association with other vets.”
Kirsten Kroll, 27, leaves next month for Afghanistan on a nine-month tour of duty. An occupational therapist and former Maine Adaptive volunteer, she will run a traumatic brain-injury clinic.
“Our main goal after an injury is to get the soldier doing what they would normally be doing prior to the injury or expose them to a variety of new adventures,” like Veterans/No Boundaries, she said.
“Healing is part of that process,” she said. “So, in terms of learning their limitations, in terms of networking, it’s extremely important to them.”
She said many soldiers are dealing with PTSD and adjustment disorder, so for such internal wounds, the best type of environment is being with a crowd of people and sharing with other soldiers.
Maine Adaptive has also helped her.
“For me, just seeing the smiles on their faces and the progress they make in the four days, you see them conquering their fears, you see them working with their limitations, learning to pace themselves, and independently managing, whether it’s their physical or mental disabilities,” Kirsten Kroll said.
He said the national transportation sponsor “helps broaden the reach of this important program while also exposing additional people to Maine as a recreational destination.”
“It is also further testimony of our experience and reputation within the national network of programs and service organizations focused on helping veterans and active duty personnel heal and rehabilitate,” Topper said.
That includes post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said the military has recently started diagnosing and treating in soldiers with significant injuries.
“The idea is that if you sustained a traumatic brain injury, lost a limb and/or damaged your spinal cord, you likely have some emotional wounds that may require equal or greater attention,” he said.
“While those emotional wounds aren’t the direct focus of our work and mission as an organization focused on physical adaptations, we have seen time and time again how much having fun, learning new skills and staying active benefit our participants.
“Even beyond serving as a temporary escape from daily rehab and coping that these men and women are enduring, the program helps to teach trust, show compassion and form bonds of friendship,” Topper said.