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94-Year-Old, Blind, Veteran to Ski for First Time

Peter Zimmer and Anita Savage

Peter Zimmer, the 94-year-old, blind Veteran trying skiing for the first time and his caregiver, Anita Savage.

By Sarah Phillips
Friday, March 30, 2018

NAVARRE, OHIO – A legally blind, 94-year-old Veteran is heading to Snowmass Village, Colorado this Friday to participate in the 2018 Winter Sports Clinic, becoming the oldest Veteran to ever participate in the challenging clinic.

Peter Zimmer, a Veteran patient that receives care from the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System served in World War II as a Merchant Marine, and after being drafted, served for almost two years in the Army during the start of the Korean War. 

The VA Winter Sports Clinic includes events like downhill skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, cross country skiing and much more.  This annual event attracts more than 400 injured Veterans and active-duty service members is hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

“The winter sports clinic is an affair that tries to give Veterans a chance to enjoy other parts of their life, and show them that it’s not over.  You don’t have to become a vegetable and inactive,” said Zimmer who regularly attends his local YMCA to work out. 

Zimmers’ caregiver Anita Savage lovingly says that “losing his sight and being older hasn’t slowed him down.”  She has been with Zimmer for nearly 30 years and spoke about what it means being a caretaker.  “He just became legally blind in the last 6-7 years.  But he does alright.  He knows his way around.”

An important aspect of events like the Winter Sports Clinic are the opportunities for not only disable Veterans, but their caregivers.  While Savage will not be attending this upcoming clinic, she has participated in other disabled sporting events with Zimmer such as the National Disabled Veterans TEE Tournament.   

Savage spoke about how these events allow for networking and fellowship you don’t get day to day,“…to hear their stories and see what they are going through and know you’re not alone.  It’s difficult.  But there are benefits for the caregivers.  You know you think you’re bad off until you see someone worse.  You just gotta hang in there.  You’re not going to have good days all the time.  It’s impossible.  But you just have to do what you have to do.  Life isn’t easy anyway.  You always have hills to go up and down.” 

When asked how she copes with the hard days Savage said, “If you find it’s too much for you, there is help for you at the VA. They have counseling, remarkable what the VA does, even for the caregivers.”  She added that she thinks it’s a shame not more caregivers realize the options available to them through the VA and other Veteran Service Organizations. She said she tries to share how much help is out there. 

Zimmer who isn’t much of a talker allowed Savage to speak for him.  She lovingly described the relationship younger Veterans have with him, “The younger guys at the VFW look up and admire Pete. They want to live to be as old and active as him.” 

The Winter Sports Clinic will host many events that are new to Zimmer.  He has never even tried on ski boots yet he is ready to hit the slopes.  “Don’t let age define what you can or can’t do,” Said Zimmer.

To other Veterans coming out to the games his advice is, “Go out and try it, you know?  Have no expectations.  Do what you can do, and if you can’t do it, find something else to do.” 

The Veterans and active-duty military members participating in the clinic will be joined by volunteers and leading medical and rehabilitative professionals from across the nation.

The clinic promotes rehabilitation through adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, rock climbing, wheelchair self-defense, sled hockey, scuba diving and other adaptive sports and activities.

Studies show adaptive sports provide participants with physical and emotional benefits, including stress relief, reduced dependency on pain and depression medications, and higher achievement in education and employment. The event has also been a starting point for numerous Paralympic athletes and is often referred to as “Miracles on a Mountainside.”

Participation is open to military service members and Veterans with spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological problems and disabilities. Veterans with inpatient or outpatient status at VA medical facilities receive first priority.

About the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System

Focusing on treating the whole Veteran through health promotion and disease prevention, the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System delivers comprehensive, seamless health care and social services for 111,900 Veterans at 18 locations across Northeast Ohio.  The Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System contributes to the future of medicine through education, training and research programs.  For more information visit www.cleveland.va.gov.   

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