Pete Zimmer is legally blind and has never been on the slopes, but this week, the 92-year-old skied for the first time at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. And while he found the ride in the monoski “a little hairy,” he took it in stride.

“Don’t let age define what you can or can’t do,” Zimmer said. “Go out and try it. Have no expectations. Do what you can do, and if you can’t, find something else to do.”

Zimmer served in the Merchant Marines during World War II, and after being drafted, served almost two years in the Army at the start of the Korean War. Despite his military service, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that he qualified for VA benefits when Congress provided eligibility to Merchant Mariners who served under the Coast Guard during WWII. The Ohio resident receives care at the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System.

three people posing in ski gear

Pete Zimmer (front) finishes a ski run along with Jill Atwood and ski instructor Bill Gothard.

After the war, Zimmer says he came home and worked in a brewery for 23 years and a beef packing plant after that. Now, at 92, he keeps busy by exercising at his local YMCA, but attributes his good health to one of two things.

“The man upstairs, he likes me or he doesn’t want me. Either one, I’m grateful.”

Zimmer’s caregiver of 30 years, Anita Savage, said that his age and loss of vision haven’t slowed Zimmer down.

“He just became legally blind in the last six to seven years, but he does all right,” she said. “He knows his way around.”

Events like the Winter Sports Clinic also provide opportunities for Veterans’ caregivers, Savage said. She was grateful for the networking and fellowship she received when she traveled to the National Disabled Veterans TEE Tournament with Zimmer last year.

“To hear their stories and see what they are going through and know you’re not alone,” she said. “There are benefits for the caregivers. If you find it’s too much for you, there is help for you at the VA. They have counseling, remarkable what the VA does for the caregivers.”

About the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic

Co-hosted by DAV and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic promotes sports therapy and rehabilitation through adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, rock climbing, wheelchair self-defense, sled hockey, scuba diving and other adaptive sports and activities. The five-day event in Snowmass, Colorado is a world leader in adaptive winter sports instruction for ill and injured Veterans and their families. Be inspired at

About the Author: Sarah Jane Phillips is a public affairs specialist at the Northeast Ohio VA Health Care System.  She is a graduate of the Defense Information School public affairs course and specializes in marketing and design.  She lives on a small farm in a historic village outside of Cleveland, is a naturalist and enjoys boating and hiking with her dogs.

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Published on Apr. 4, 2018

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