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SPECIAL REPORT: Overcoming Adversity

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - There are hundreds of disabled veterans living in the state of Colorado, with some living right here on the Western Slope.

KREX 5 News Reporter Katerina Chryssafis had the chance to meet one of those veterans and learn more about the resources she utilized that helped saved her life.

"You're free nothing hurts," said Linda Cline, Disabled Veteran living in Mesa County.

When going down these slopes, Linda Cline is unstoppable.

"You're just out there enjoying life again and the freedom that it gives you," Cline said.

Yet this wasn't always the case for Linda, after developing an infection back in 2014 that would alter her way of living.

"They call it encephalitis which is infection of the brain," she said.

Linda had always thought she was invincible. She even served in the Army back in 1985 as an FM Radio Operator.

"It's an experience I will never forget. Even with my brain infection, I can remember a lot about that," Cline added.

It wasn't until years after she returned that her life would change forever.

"I was in my camper and I noticed I had a really bad headache, so I got up to take something for it and I instantly fell and couldn't get up," said Cline.

Days later, she would find out that a tiny mosquito was to blame for what would soon be one of the biggest challenges she'd have to face.

"I was in my apartment and couldn't do anything for myself except the necessities. I just thought to myself this is not working. I don't have quality of life if i'm going to be stuck in this wheelchair," said Cline.

Just when Linda felt like giving up, she'd meet someone who would motivate her to keep on going.

"He changed my life. I mean if it weren't for him getting me involved in these activities I wouldn't be here. I know I wouldn't," Cline said.

"I started working with Linda in 2014 when she was living in the Community Living Center at the VA Hospital," said Ryan Keyes, Recreational Therapist with the Grand Junction Veterans Health Care Administration.

Little by little, Keyes began working with Linda in order to rehabilitate her so that she could live an independent life.

"In 2014 it was anything just to be engaged in any social activity and any community outing to show that being in a wheelchair and hospital type setting is not her future," said Keyes.

With those baby steps, soon enough Linda would be tackling activities she never thought possible.

"Going skiing, kayaking, fishing, and rock climbing. A lot of times she was like, 'I don't know if I can do it,' but I always thought, you never know until you try," said Keyes.

"I just wish I would have started when I was younger," said Cline.

Little by little, Ryan watched Linda's perception on life change.

"Through this experience she's gained so much confidence which effects emotionally how she looks at situations whether it's recreation or just general life," said Keyes.

Confidence that would inspire Linda to take her new found freedom a step further by participating in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

During the month of April, over 400 disabled veterans from across the country make their way to Aspen for the big event.

"We work with them on really adaptive sports and getting them back engaged in the things they loved prior to disability or injury," said Teresa Parks, Director of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

The week long event includes activities such as adaptive skiing, yoga, scuba diving, and even rock climbing.

"A lot of the veterans that come to the event if they're brand new may be hesitant if they can do it or not. Everyone there is pretty much saying if there's a will, there's a way," said Keyes.

"It's just really amazing to see the change from when they get here from being very nervous, concerned, not sure if they made the right decision, to by the time they leave they can't wait to get home and start doing all of the things that they've learned," said Parks.

With so many veterans suffering from depression and post traumatic stress disorder, the benefits of participating in events such as the Winter Sports Clinic are more than just physical.

"For trauma based exposure, the number one primary coping mechanism is avoidance," said William Steele, Chief of Psychiatry at the Grand Junction VA Center.

Steele added that the experience of being with professional staff and many other vets is a big portion of the healing process.

"What a tremendous opportunity for them. We call that in vivo exposure, which is in life exposure," said Steele.

"They find out that if they get out and exercise, it takes their mind off of the pain and then the pain starts subsiding. It's not only physical pain but mental pain too," said Matt Lucas, Recreation Therapy Supervisor at the Grand Junction VA Center.

By overcoming that pain, Linda can now reflect on the person she used to be.

"I wish more veterans would do these activities before they decide that it's too much for them and they take their own lives. I feel for them so much because I was there," said Cline.

She hopes that sharing her story will help inspire others.

"This is the happiest time of my life. I'm finally living," Cline said.

For more information on the Grand Junction VA Center and the services they offer, you can visit their website at https://www.grandjunction.va.gov/

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