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How Snowboarding Changed a Veteran’s Life

The National Ability Center’s Work With the Military Community

After Ginger Mercer was discharged from the U.S. Army, she didn’t feel like herself anymore. Growing up in a military family, she had always planned to serve her country, and trained for six months to become a morse code interceptor. But after a few years of service, she suffered a career-ending injury. 

Distressing memories, nightmares, trouble sleeping—Ginger was struggling to keep up. But after she took a rock climbing lesson at the National Ability Center (NAC) in Park City, Utah, her reality started to shift. She became more and more involved with the NAC’s programs, transitioning from gym to rock climbing, picking up road biking, competing in triathlons, and learning to snowboard. The more she got outside, the better she felt—and her three kids noticed the difference, too.

“The NAC has been my miracle maker, helping me heal and sending me on amazing adventures,” Ginger says. She’s also become involved with the NAC as a volunteer, and helping out at one of the organization’s fundraisers is what sparked her interest in snowboarding. At a skijoring fundraising event, she bid on a snowboard and won, which prompted her to pick up the sport at the admirable age of 43 years old.

Having grown up in the flatlands of Michigan, Ginger had to overcome her fear of heights to start riding. “I could have never imagined that one day I would be riding a snowboard straight down as fast as I could.”

But once she started, she—along with her two daughters—became totally hooked on the sport. “I crave snow and need to breathe on the top of a mountain,” she says. She selected the snowboard she rides today—and got to test it out at an NAC military ski and snowboard camp—with the help of a Backcountry Gearhead (and fellow vet) named Warren Young. “He helped me with a veteran discount and picked the perfect setup for me!” she says. And now, with the right rig, her snowboarding game is strong.

Ginger is just one of many veterans whom the NAC has helped through outdoor sports. In fact, the very roots of the nonprofit lie with helping former and current members of the military. In 1985, Meeche White along with then-husband Pete Badewitz, a veteran of the Vietnam War, founded the NAC (formerly known as the Park City Handicapped Sports Association). The very first offerings? Free ski lessons for vets at Park City Mountain.

Serving those who’ve served remains core to the NAC mission, and over 20% of the individuals the nonprofit works with are active duty service members or veterans. The NAC helps the military community get out there and cope with everything from physical injuries like amputations to mental health issues such as PTSD.  

“These programs help [military members] discover the benefits of an active lifestyle by creating both skill-based and personal goals to strive towards,” explains NAC Senior Development Manager Katie Miles. 

In 2019 alone, the NAC served 1,400 active duty and veteran service members. Through private lessons, camps, and adaptive wilderness expeditions, NAC instructors lead the military community in discovering sports like archery, mountain biking, stand-up paddleboarding, and climbing. The NAC also makes some experiences available to military family members. 

If you’re an active or former member of the military, you can learn more about the NAC’s programs here

And if you’re a member of the U.S. military or a veteran yourself, ask a Gearhead about our military discount!

Backcountry partners with the National Ability Center (NAC) around the shared mission of breaking down barriers between humans and nature. The NAC is a world-class organization that provides access to all kinds of outdoor activities for people with disabilities. Based in Park City, Utah, the NAC aims to break down the barriers to outdoor recreation, and has been helping people get active outside since the 1980s.