Doug Pringle lost a leg to the Vietnam War in 1968. He was recovering at the Presidio of San Francisco hospital the day World War II veterans stopped by for a visit.
“They tried to convince us all that we should learn to ski on one leg,” says Pringle, now president of Disabled Sports USA Far West, based in Citrus Heights. “I thought they were nuts. I didn’t think you could ski on one leg. I tried to ski once when I had two legs and didn’t have any success, so I didn’t go.”
His hospital buddies later returned from the Sierra Nevada ski trip so happy to have gotten out for a while to have some fun. Pringle signed up for the next ski outing.
“I had an instructor who was skiing on one leg, and in a couple of days I learned to ski a little bit. It literally changed my life,” he says. “It started me thinking that I was going to be all right, because for all those months in the hospital bed, society and my parents and the doctors treated me like, ‘Oh, poor you, you’re a cripple, your life is over.’”
He calls that day “the miracle on the mountain” and has since dedicated himself to Disabled Sports USA and helping other disabled individuals find meaning in their lives through sports.
Jim Thweatt’s parents had heard about the organization and called Pringle soon after their 17-year-old son lost a leg in 1971.
“I was a junior in high school. I was riding a motorcycle and got hit by a car,” Thweatt says. “I was still on crutches — hadn’t even had my first prosthesis made yet — and Doug Pringle picked me up and took me up to the mountains to ski.
“Doug and those other guys who’d come back from Vietnam took me under their wing, and I learned to ski and to become a disabled-skiing instructor. Disabled sports teaches you that you can be successful in other parts of your life, as well,” says Thweatt, who now owns River City Physical Therapy in West Sacramento. “The rapid integration into sports gave me the desire to strive to be the best that I can be.”
Thweatt also recently competed in the U.S. Disabled Sailing Championships in San Diego.
Disabled Sports USA grew out of the National Amputee Skiers Association, founded by disabled World War II vets who ran an amputees’ ski club at Donner Summit. Under Pringle’s leadership, that organization evolved into the nationwide Disabled Sports USA.
The flagship Far West chapter operates a ski school at Alpine Meadows every winter and sponsors both summer and winter sports programs open to anyone with a physical disability. True to its original mission, Far West also conducts five-day winter sports camps for soldiers.
“We’ve come full circle,” says Pringle. “The World War II vets came and got us, and now we’re walking around hospitals and saying to the wounded warriors from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, ‘Hey, we want to teach you to ski.’”
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