Alan Babin, an Army veteran from Round Rock, Texas, was named the 2015 Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Freedom Award recipient at the 29th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
On March 31, 2003, while serving as an Army medic in Iraq, his platoon came under attack and a fellow soldier was struck by enemy fire on March 31, 2003. Babin rushed to the soldier to render aid, and was shot through the stomach. The bullet tore through several vital organs and left a gaping wound in his torso. Babin clung to life for three hours before the firefight ceased long enough to medically evacuate him.
Several weeks later while recovering at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, Babin contracted meningitis and suffered a debilitating stroke. He was left paralyzed, unable to communicate, and completely dependent on others for his care.
Following more than 70 operations, including five brain surgeries, Babin slowly began showing signs of progress. In 2005, he attended his first winter sports clinic.
“The Winter Sports Clinic has been the main venue for his growth over the years, and he is now on the verge of becoming an independent skier,” said Babin’s recreational therapist and coach, Jose Laguna. “I have known him since 2005 and the only way to describe his progress is nothing short of a miracle.”
“I don’t know what inspires me,” said Babin. “I just know I have a starting point and an ending point, and the ending point is where I want to be, so that’s what I do. I get to the ending point.”
During the event’s history, thousands of veterans have proved to themselves their injuries do not define them. Ensuring that veterans receive world-class health care and rehabilitation is a primary goal of VA and DAV. When veterans conquer the mountain, it proves to all that a disability need not be an obstacle to an active, rewarding life.
“We are so proud to see veterans like Alan make such incredible strides out here on the mountain,” said DAV National Commander Ron Hope, who twice participated in this event after losing his arm in Vietnam. “Every year he comes back here with a great attitude and a tremendous work ethic, and it shows in the progress he’s made.”
The clinic uses a holistic healthcare model to provide every veteran with physical and mental treatment options that work for them. Participants take part in a number of adaptive sports activities, such as alpine and cross-country skiing, sled hockey, kayaking and rock climbing. As one of the largest annual gatherings of wounded and ill veterans, it also provides an important opportunity for veterans to share their common experiences.
“It’s really comforting to know you’re not the only one who went through something,” said Babin.
Both Babin’s mother and father, Rosie and Alain, are Army veterans, and have stood beside their son as parents, caregivers and advocates. They said they believe the clinic was a turning point in their son’s rehabilitation.
“We have witnessed a lot of miracles, and continue to be amazed daily by his determination,” said Rosie Babin, Alan’s mother. “He does not consider himself a hero, but he’s become my hero for the battle he has fought day after day after day to get his life back.”