National Ability Center salutes military heroes with annual luncheon |

National Ability Center salutes military heroes with annual luncheon

The National Ability Center offers an array of activities, including aquatics, skiing, snowboarding, sled hockey, horseback therapeutic riding, cycling and archery for people of all ages and abilities.

Those who participate in the experiences include children, parents, grandparents and the military.

Veterans Day is next Sunday, and the NAC wants people to celebrate past and present military personnel with its second annual Saluting Our Heroes luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

The event will feature keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet of the Utah National Guard, Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street and Army Staff Sgt. Dan Nevins, the director of Warriors Speak, which is part of the Wounded Warrior Project, a national nonprofit organization that helps those who have been injured physically or emotionally while serving the country, said Janai Martinez, the NAC’s event coordinator.

The luncheon is designed to honor these people, she said.

"It’s a time for us to recognize and celebrate our veterans and current military service personnel," Martinez explained. "It is also a time for us to recognize the emerging needs of that population when they come home from their tours, and what we are doing up at the National Ability Center to help fulfill those needs."

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Wednesday’s luncheon is free, but a suggested minimum donation of $150, which will cover the cost of the event, will be collected.

Registration is required and can be made by emailing Martinez at or by calling (435) 649-3991, ex. 633.

Throughout the past few years, the programs designed for returning military personnel have grown 400 percent, Martinez said.

"We started with serving only 80 people and now we have more than 800 who participate in our activities," she said.

The NAC operates with the help of Wounded Warrior Project to set up the outreach for these soldiers, said NAC Public Relations Coordinator Claire Wiley.

"We have this facility, which is one of the very few in the nation, that has the breadth of activities here," she said. "Living in Park City is incredible. The recreational opportunities are astounding. You can ski, snowboard, cross-country ski, or come to our high-ropes course or do the biathlon or participate in our equestrian programs."

Wiley said the population of returning soldiers is increasing, as are their needs, which is something NAC can help fulfill.

"Maj. Gen. Tarbet will address this issue during the luncheon," she said. "Not only are these warriors dealing with physical disabilities, but also with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s really important for people to recognize that some of the injuries they are suffering cannot be seen.

"The NAC plays an active role in healing some of the emotional stress and physical ailments that have happened while they have been at battle, while also helping them integrate back into society," Wiley said. "We show them that it’s not impossible to accomplish this goal and live a positive and happy life. We show them that they can enjoy recreational activities with their families again. But we also show them that they may have to approach the goal in a different way."

That’s one of the reasons why Street, who won a gold in the Super G in the 1998 Olympics, before severely injuring her left leg during the final downhill at Crans-Montana in Switzerland, is speaking.

"We asked her to be a part of the event because she is a gold medalist and was able to come back and overcome an injury," Wiley said. "She was also in the NBC reality TV show ‘Stars Earn Stripes,’ so you can see she is personally invested in what’s been happening to our warriors. She told us that she was honored to speak at the luncheon."

Wiley is also looking forward to Nevins’ presentation.

"To have Dan Nevins there is incredible, because he can speak to the story that so many of these soldiers are coming back with," Wiley said.

Nevins was severely wounded in Iraq when an improvised explosive device blew up under the truck he was riding in. The blast killed the driver. It injured Nevins’ legs, which had to be amputated.

The Wounded Warrior Project helped him start snowboarding, running and bicycling to where he can enjoy recreational activities with his family again.

"So, (when he speaks) there is this relatable link he has with the other wounded warriors where he can talk about how he overcame this dire situation," Wiley said.

The NAC is one of nine organizations partnered with Wounded Warrior Project.

"We worked really hard to solidify that, and to be able to work with these military programs is a privilege for me," Wiley said.

A few days ago, a soldier who is dealing with a traumatic brain injury and has lost feeling and mobility in his left side came to the NAC, Wiley said.

"He got on a bike for the first time since he’s been back and he told us that we didn’t just light up his day, but we lit up his life, because he could go back and recreate with his three boys," she said. "Jeremy Houskeeper, our director of military programs, said the definition of what it means to be healthy is to be able to come back home and feel joy with your family and friends. So, it is a huge deal when someone like that soldier, comes to us and learns to laugh and smile and get on a bike after suffering a debilitating injury and ride with their son or daughter again."

The NAC not only provides recreational experiences for the wounded soldiers, but also specializes in health and wellness programs for their families.

"We have 25 rooms in our lodge to keep them here in a safe place where they can interact with other soldiers and recreate with their loved ones," she said. "For us to be able to offer them this type of facility, and to see their joy is just indescribable."

The National Ability Center will host the second annual Saluting Our Heroes Luncheon at the Grand America Hotel, 555 S. Main St. in Salt Lake City, on Wednesday, Nov. 14, from noon until 1:30 p.m. The luncheon is free, but a suggested minimum donation of $150, which will cover the cost of the event, will be collected. Registration is required and can be made by emailing Martinez at or by calling (435) 649-3991, ex. 633. For more information, visit or