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Disabled veterans sports clinic returns to Colorado

By: The Associated Press
April 7, 2018 Updated: April 7, 2018 at 10:34 pm
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Veteran Marc Laspes laughs in a pool while scuba diving in Snowmass Village, Colo., on April 2, 2018, for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times via AP)

ASPEN — Jataya Taylor's world shattered 10 years ago with one letter.

After two serious injuries during training, the U.S. Marine Corps medically retired Jataya, preventing her from serving in any branch of the military ever again.

An avid ROTC member throughout high school, Jataya enlisted as soon as she graduated. Her family's military roots run deep, such as her father, who served in the Air Force.

Veterans Sports Clinic
Veteran and amputee Patrick Ward takes off all of the rings he collected underwater while scuba Monday, April 2, 2018, in Snowmass Village, Colo., or the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. The scuba instructors give "missions" in the water to the disabled vets to give back that sense of duty to the veterans. Ward wants to inspire new Veterans to continue pursuing adventures in life. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times via AP) 

"My whole plan for my life revolved around the military. I was lost," Jataya said of her medical retirement. "I didn't know what to do or where to go."

This month, the 31-year-old will join more than 400 fellow disabled veterans at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village. It's her first trip to the annual event.

While stationed off the coast of South Carolina in 2005, Jataya fell and tore several ligaments in her left leg. Less than one month later, she dislocated her right shoulder in multiple directions.

"It was pretty bad," she said of the back-to-back injuries.

What doctors did not know at that time is Jataya suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndromes — a group of rare connective tissue disorders — that hindered her ligaments' ability to recover.

Veterans Sports Clinic
Veteran Earl Williams launches a toy torpedo while scuba diving in Snowmass Village, Colo., on Monday, April 2, 2018 for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. The scuba instructors give "missions" in the water to the disabled vets to give back that sense of duty and military quality to the veterans. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times via AP) 

"When I got injured, (doctors) had a hard time repairing the damage," Jataya explained. "And through the years, trying to fix it made things worse."

With no choice but to focus her attention elsewhere post-military, Jataya enrolled in college and went on to earn an associate of arts degree in criminal justice technology as well as her bachelor's in parks, recreation and tourism resources.

Along the way, however, Jataya's knee gave out while walking down a flight stairs, causing her to fall and further damage her knee, in addition to her ankle.

Veterans Sports Clinic
Veteran and amputee Patrick Ward smiles in the pool while scuba diving Monday, April 2, 2018, for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo. The scuba instructors give "missions" in the water to the disabled vets to give back that sense of duty to the veterans. Ward wants to inspire new Veterans to continue pursuing adventures in life. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times via AP) 

"At that point, my left knee and ankle were damaged beyond repair," she said.

Despite her suffering, after graduating college at West Virginia University in 2011, Jataya relocated to Colorado in pursuit of a life outdoors.

"When I moved here, I was like, 'This is it,' she recalled. "This is home."

One year after moving to Colorado, Jataya purchased a home in Aurora. But that year her injuries also worsened and "really started getting to me."

"I was severely depressed. That's when I started with Team River Runner (adaptive whitewater sports program for veterans), which helped me stay a little bit motivated," Jataya said. "I was really athletic before the injuries, so it was nice to know that life may have changed, but I could still learn to be active and do new activities."

While the sport helped Jataya stay sane, doctor visits and discomfort hindered her ability to participate.

By 2013, Jataya's left knee was in such bad shape that she was unable to walk. Because her shoulder also is damaged, she could not use crutches and was wheelchair-bound.

Veterans Sports Clinic
Veteran Earl Williams laughs in a pool while scuba diving in Snowmass Village, Colo., on April 2, 2018 for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times via AP) 

Over the next few years, Jataya had several unsuccessful surgeries to try to mend both her shoulder and leg.

In February 2017, she made another life-changing decision: she had her left leg amputated.

Of everything Jataya has endured over the past 18 years, her father, Kevin Taylor, believes the amputation was "one of the best things that's happened."

While Kevin admitted to initially opposing the procedure, his tune changed the minute his daughter walked through the front door of their family home, smiling, after the surgery.

As soon as doctors gave Jataya the green light, she said she "immediately got involved" with adaptive sports of all types.

"I had literally been waiting," she said with a laugh.

Veterans Sports Clinic
Veterans enjoy scuba diving on Monday, April 2, 2018 in Snowmass Village, Colo., for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. (Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times via AP) 

Since the amputation last year, Jataya's growing list of adaptive sports she's pursued includes rock climbing, biking, archery, cross-country and downhill skiing and snowboarding. She also obtained a license for deep-water diving and is currently training for the U.S. Paralympic air rifle team.

"If I didn't have adaptive sports and the people I met through them, I don't know if I'd still be here," Jataya said. "I might not have survived my whole ordeal."

Kevin said he and his daughter plan to skydive together.

"To me, (Jataya) never had a disability, even when she was in a wheelchair, because she did things in the wheelchair that other people with two legs don't do," Kevin said. "And I really praise her for doing what she's done and taking life to the next level and not letting it get her down."

This week's disabled veterans clinic in Snowmass Village is hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans and is the largest rehabilitative program of its kind in the world.

"I'm a really competitive person, so this gives me a chance to hone my skills," Jataya said, "but it's also going to give me the opportunity to reach out to more people and meet new friends."

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