Underwriting provided by:
The Laura Moore Cunningham
Foundation

Higher Ground Sun Valley

Higher Ground Sun Valley camp at Pettit Lake
Higher Ground Sun Valley camp at Pettit Lake

Higher Ground Sun Valley Sun Valley is a therapeutic recreational program founded in 1999 and headquartered in Ketchum, ID. The nonprofit's specialty is working with injured veterans, for whom it runs several adaptive sports retreats a year.

Outdoor Idaho filmed a Higher Ground Sun Valley water sports camp for female veterans and their supporters held in August, 2012, at Pettit Lake in the Sawtooth Valley.

Veterans and a supporter celebrating a successful swimming lesson
Veterans and a supporter celebrating a successful swimming lesson

The attendees have traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS), some having experienced military sexual trauma. It's a large, but underserved population.

"Everybody wants to think that if you can't see it, it must not be there," says Bert Gillette, Military Outreach Officer at Higher Ground Sun Valley. "We have all these people with TBI and PTS that are more than 350,000 out there."

Over the weeklong retreat, participants enjoy swimming, paddle boarding, rafting and wakeboarding. For some, it's their first time swimming in a very long time, and it's a confidence boost.

Quiturah Arrington relaxing in Pettit Lake
Quiturah Arrington relaxing in Pettit Lake

"I was terrified of swimming," says retired U.S.M.C. Lance Corporal Quiturah Arrington. "I'm really proud of myself because if this on my own personally, there is no way that I would have been able to get out in the water and do what I did."

Retired U.S.A.F. Master Sergeant Adele Loar and retired U.S. Army Specialist Juliet Madsen were both seriously injured by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Nevertheless, they tried wakeboarding, and loved it.

"The wakeboarding was awesome," says Madsen, a triathlete. "Now that I know how to do it, I'm pretty excited and want to try to do it again."

Veterans talking with each other
Veterans talking with each other

Not only did they find a new sport, but they found each other.

"She's like me," says Loar. "For once I feel like I can say whatever I'm thinking and all the problems I'd endured and someone gets it."

It is the support from other female veterans that is the bedrock of the program.

"It is a major healing component for women," says Ellen Tracy, a therapist who volunteers with the program. "Many of these women have been very isolated. Oftentimes they don't leave their house. One of the most important pieces is help them understand that what they are going through, other women also are going through. They are not alone."

Stretching and meditation class
Stretching and meditation class

The program also provides support for caregivers, who accompany the women.

"If you are not taking care of the needs of the person that lives with the veteran, you are not taking care of the veteran," says Gillette. "They come as a package."

"I got to meet other people that are under the situations, just talk with them, find out different ways that they've been dealing with it, says Mark Braisted, Adele's brother and her caregiver. "I guess it's just reassuring to know some of the things I'm doing are the same things they're doing."

Paddleboarding on Pettit Lake in the morning
Paddleboarding on Pettit Lake in the morning

In addition to water sports, the women learn relaxation techniques, such as mediation.

"One of the therapeutic tools we try and teach these women is how to create pauses in their mind, says Tracy. "The mind chatter, the anxiety goes on and on and on, and so this is an amazing place to be able to stop, breathe and just look around themselves."

And of course, the amazing scenery of the Sawtooth Valley provides its own medicine.

"The landscape is absolutely wonderful," says retired U.S.M.C. Staff Sergeant Delta Evans. "I think the fresh air and the outdoors and the stimulation absolutely helps with healing."

"It is absolutely gorgeous. It's like looking at a picture but actually experiencing it," says Arrington.

Rafting the Yankee Fork of the Salmon
Rafting the Yankee Fork of the Salmon