Lance Cpl. Matias Ferreira, 23, was taller before the accident.
On a day the Marine will never forget — Jan. 21, 2011 — he jumped off a roof in Afghanistan and landed on an Improvised Explosive Device.
He put his prosthetic legs to the test last winter with a snowboarding trip to Breckenridge, Colo., thanks to the adaptive sports program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The program is made possible by volunteers across the country and around the world.
“I turn away programs because I can’t do them [all],” said Harvey Naranjo, adaptive sports program coordinator at the medical center in Bethesda.
Activities such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kayaking are available to wounded warriors while they recuperate. There are two to three special trips per month, such as the upcoming scuba diving excursion in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Naranjo said.
“It’s part of the rehabilitation program,” he said. “We rehabilitate them so they can go back to living.”
A lifelong athlete, losing his legs did not stop Ferreira of Rockville from participating in the activities he always has enjoyed. The former machine gunner still works out and runs the occasional marathon.
After two days of lessons in Breckenridge, he was back to snowboarding black diamond runs.
“It’s a little bit different, of course,” he said. “I’m missing some parts.”
New to the adaptive sports program is Soldiers who Salsa, a San Diego nonprofit.
Interested veterans will learn to spin their partner on the dance floor, thanks to Sherry Harris-Morganstein, who teaches at Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Gaithersburg. A dozen wounded warriors signed up for the dancing at an adaptive sports program open house May 9 at Walter Reed.
“Salsa is kind of young and sexy, and a lot of the people we’d be teaching in the program are young, 18 to 25,” said Harris-Morganstein of Silver Spring.
She said salsa is a great way to teach balance and coordination, while also giving wounded warriors an opportunity to have fun with their significant other.
Dance moves are adapted based on the type of injury. The wheelchair bound will learn to spin their partner at the waist, rather than by raising an arm above the head. Someone without a hand might lead spins from the forearm.
Naranjo created the adaptive sports program 10 years ago at Walter Reed. An occupational therapist at the time, he started out by sneaking wounded warriors off campus to go to museums and bars.
Since then, he has seen more than 1,000 amputees.
“It’s good for Americans to know this happens every day,” Ferreira said.