Sport Clinics Volunteers

During Larry Barnett’s 30-plus-year career in Major League Baseball, he served as an umpire for four World Series, four All-Star games and seven American League Championship Series. If you ask him what his greatest life accomplishment has been, however, he’ll tell you it’s his association with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and those it serves.

“I started volunteering at Veterans Administration hospitals in 1976, and I still visit five of them a month,” he said. Barnett also gives his time to the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, where he’s a sponsor. The Clinic promotes rehabilitation by instructing veterans with disabilities in adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, and introducing them to a number of other adaptive recreational activities and sports. Barnett has been involved with the clinic since its inception 22 years ago, and attended the most recent one last year in Snowmass Village, CO, where he showed participants his baseball cards and his photos from his years in the game.

Many of the people he visits there recognize him from TV.

“I went into a patient’s room. He was like 77 years old,” Barnett said of a man in an Alabama VA hospital. “He found out who I was and said, ‘Would you just please sit and talk to me? I’ve enjoyed baseball more than anything in my life. Now that I’ve met you, I’m ready to go to my maker.’ Talk about powerful stuff!”

Barnett hears these kinds of stories all the time. He is the only person who has been to all 172 VA hospitals in the country, according to a spokesman for the Winter Sports Clinic. Barnett estimates he has tallied more than 3,000 visits.

“I was at the first one down at Grand Junction, and I think we had two or three sponsors at the time,” Barnett said of the inception of the Winter Sports Clinic. “Now we have 77 sponsors along with the DAV and the Veterans Administration. They change these people’s lives, and it makes an impact on our lives. For 11 months, I visit 55 hospitals and then I’m out here for a week.”

A week that’s difficult for him to describe.

“You’ve got to come out here and see this. It’s contagious, believe me,” Barnett said of his experience watching veterans learn how to overcome physical challenges, many for the first time since their injuries.

Rich Tucker has served as a volunteer and a sponsor for 18 years. He first came to see the program as a guest and then took word of it back to his company, Baxter Healthcare. “We’ve been a sponsor ever since,” Tucker said. “There’s only so much an individual can do in life. You can’t be all things to all people. So you have to choose something. I chose this because it’s probably the most gratifying thing I could ever do.”

“And believe me,” his volunteer buddy Barnett added, “if you can’t get excited about being around these young and old heroes, then you can’t get excited period. I had a great career in baseball—37-and-a-half years. I have a great family. My association with the Disabled American Veterans is probably the most important thing I have done in my life.”

According to Tucker, the Winter Sports Clinic experience begins from the moment the vets get off the bus and turn their eyes to the snow-covered mountain, laced with instructors and loaded with challenges.

They step outside, look up and shake their heads at the intimidating slopes. Fortunately, previous clinic participants help to ease the fears by telling the newbies: ‘Before the week is over, you’re going to be skiing down that mountain.’

“By Friday, those new participants are either in a sit-ski, standing on skis or assisted if they’re blind,” Tucker said. “They have grins on their faces as they come down the mountain that you can’t imagine.”

Each year, after a week at the Winter Sports Clinic, Tucker returns to work at Baxter to questions from his work mates: Where’s the DVD? Did you bring the DVD today?

The Disabled American Veterans produces a promotional DVD that features highlights of the Winter Sports Clinic. The disc shows participants in each of the clinic activities, from rock climbing classes and self-defense courses to snowmobiling and, of course, skiing.

That DVD is a hot little item, and Tucker carries it with him everywhere he goes.

by Josh Pate

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Herschel Walker issue include Green Pages—An Old Fashion Clothesline; Faucet Aerators;Pate—Winter Sports Clinic Highlights; Humor Therapy; Man’s New Best Friend; Headlines—Splel Chceker, Drum Therapy, HBO Film and more; George Covington—Nobody Walks In Texas; Ouch!—Relief for Fibromyalgia; Best Practices—Sprint Has Your Number; A Place Called Home—Disability Legal Rights Center; UCP—A Ride to Raise Funds and Awareness; Ability on Assignment—Qatar, Shafallah Forum; Essay—Spread Respect; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Herschel Walker issue:

Herschel Walker — Interview

Documentary — Including Samuel

Step of Mind — Using Chaos For Good in the Middle East

Inclusion — Making Strides at the Boys & Girls Club

Ouch!—Relief for Fibromyalgia

Sport Clinic Volunteers

Humor — Man's New Best Friend

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