Nonprofit gives veterans natural therapy

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Sara Van Cleve
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Mike Cini was 30 days away from returning home to Castle Rock from Vietnam in 1971 when he was injured.

“That was the worst day,” Cini said. “Everything was fine until then.”

Cini had his left leg amputated below the knee and spent a year in the hospital.

“I was engaged when I went over because I didn’t want to go any further if I didn’t make it back,” Cini said. “I made it back though, and I said I wouldn’t get married until I could walk. I didn’t want to go down the aisle in a wheelchair.”

He learned to walk again and married his wife. Cini lived in Iowa for 35 years, working at John Deere until he retired. Then the couple moved to Colorado to be closer to their children and grandchildren.

After he moved to Colorado, Cini, who has hunted since he was about 8 years old, connected with the Arvada-based nonprofit U.S. Warriors Outdoors.

U.S. Warriors Outdoors sends wounded veterans on outdoor adventures to help them reconnect with passions and hobbies they may not have been able to pursue after being injured.

In June, Cini went to Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy on a walleye fishing trip and to try parasailing for the first time.

Gene Palumbo brought the idea for U.S. Warriors Outdoors to his friend Tim Thies after he personally saw how injuries and amputations could affect a person’s physical and emotional well being.

Longtime outdoorsmen, the two discussed the idea for about 10 years before launching the organization in December 2012. They took their first veterans on a turkey hunt in Nebraska in April. Thies died unexpectedly shortly after that trip.

“My father we a below the leg amputee,” Palumbo said. “He lost his leg when I was less than a year old. That experience can have a severe impact on someone physically and emotionally. It changes how they face each day.”

Palumbo said he also has several friends who have been injured in war.

Being outdoors with fellow veterans who have shared similar experiences can be a sort of therapy, Palumbo said.

“It’s therapeutic to go out hunting and be out there trading stories,” Palumbo said. “It’s a therapeutic experience. They can find peace in the outdoors. One of our goals is to create peace and a great experience for our wounded warriors.”

The organization and the guides who take the veterans on trips don’t focus on their injuries, Cini said.

Cini’s fishing guide in Nebraska was Bill Dorris.

“Bill asked me, ‘Are you self-dependent or do you need any assistance?’ I said, ‘I’m pretty independent, but I’ll ask if I need help.’ He asked the question, got the answer and moved on.”

U.S. Warriors Outdoors can accommodate almost every veteran, Palumbo said. From duck and elk hunting to fishing, the organization has found ways to host wheelchair-accessible trips for that can accommodate veterans with any type of injury.

Operation Enduring Freedom veterans Jason Morrison and Dan Rodriguez were both deployed to Afghanistan and took part in U.S. Warriors Outdoors’ turkey hunt in April.

“For me, it was the best weekend hunt I had in a while,” Rodriguez said. “The friends I made during the turkey hunt will always be part of my life. This organization brings people together who have things in common — the military, something most people won’t understand — and it creates a bond that will be everlasting due to the camaraderie that  we yearn for now that we’re out of service. I will never forget how comfortable Tim and Gene made us feel that weekend with all the unfamiliar faces around.”

U.S. Warriors Outdoors has 27 hunts planned for 36 hunters between September 2013 and February 2014, including an elk hunt for Cini.

All hunts are funded by Palumbo and through donations to U.S. Warriors Outdoors. U.S. Warriors Outdoors’ outings are also made possible through landowners and guides who volunteer their time and land for hunts.

For more information on how to volunteer, donate or apply to participate in a hunt, go online to www.USWarriorsOutdoors.org.