Belton residents Joy and Devin Trey Marshall’s marriage was on the brink of collapse.
Following his military service, Devin Trey Marshall suffered various injuries, including a traumatic brain injury that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression, and it was taking a toll on his family. Now, the Marshalls are flourishing thanks to the Wounded Warrior Family Ski Week trip they attended in 2012.
“I was scared to death the first time,” Joy Marshall said. “If we hadn’t gone, I don’t know if my husband and I would’ve made it. The trip saved us ... we actually connected as a family. It just clicked.”
The ski trip is a family event through the Wounded Warriors Family Adventures program, a nonprofit founded by veterans seven years ago. Warriors and their loved ones learn to ski using adaptive equipment, while spending time in group and individual counseling sessions.
The biggest change in the Marshall family was in their daughter, Stephanie Sadler, who was 16 when the family first took the trip.
“My daughter didn’t understand TBI and PTSD,” Joy Marshall said.
She was often embarrassed of her father’s forgetfulness, but seeing other children interact with their families, including parents with visible war wounds, gave her a different perspective.
“It wasn’t just her dealing with her own emotions,” Devin Trey Marshall said.
In 2013, the Marshalls attended their second trip and served as a mentor family.
“You see the change from when they first get there,” Joy Marshall said of the warriors. “They’re insecure, and all of a sudden, you see them develop a closeness with their kids. It’s the most amazing thing.”
The Marshalls cite the stability they’ve gained following the ski trips, as well as the close bonds they forged with fellow families, as the reasons for their return.
“It’s one of the few retreats that involve the whole family as a unit,” Devin Trey Marshall said. “It gets the family to do stuff that’s a little out of your comfort zone.”
Pairing skiing, a new activity for many attendees, with counseling ensures a well-rounded program, said John E. Ebright, a wounded warrior committee member and Vietnam veteran.
“We have found that many of the soldiers are injured, but their families are just as injured,” he said. “We’ve had very good results, especially from the kids. They have been somewhat hesitant to be more social, and when they find other kids like them, they are able to communicate and talk about special problems.”
The skiing challenges the warriors to open their minds to activities they may think they cannot do following injuries.
“When (the warriors) ski with their kids, the (families) get excited, and (the warriors) get excited too,” Ebright said. “Hopefully, it opens a window for them to focus on what they can do, versus what they can’t.”
The event is a community effort, with a number of companies, including Vail Resorts, Grand Timber Lodge and Southwest Airlines, helping to make the trip cost-free for families.
Applications are now open for the 2014 ski trip April 6-13. Applications are due Jan. 15.