DENVER - Americans choose to serve their country in different ways, but few of us are given an opportunity to serve like Coloradan Joel Hunt.
Hunt is an Iraqi war veteran who will be competing as an alpine skier in the Sochi Paralympic games this week, but his journey to skiing was rather unconventional.
Hunt joined the U.S. army back in 1998. He served for almost 10 years including three tours in Iraq. During his service, Hunt says he was hit with several roadside bombs. When he finally came home, he was bound to a wheelchair, suffering from a traumatic brain injury, paralysis in his leg and PTSD.
"I came home [and] found myself confined to a wheelchair in 2007 after I retired," he said. "I was confined to a wheelchair more for my traumatic brain injury, my dizzy spells and blackouts."
His parents moved to Colorado from New Mexico to help Hunt rehabilitate. After some tough love, Hunt says he was "forced" to go to a traumatic brain injury camp for skiing. On December 17, 2008, Hunt hit the slopes for the first time, starting a new chapter of his life with a new passion.
"Not only has [skiing] helped me feel free as a bird once I'm on the hill, it also informs [me] that I can do something without somebody's help, that I'm my own person," Hunt said.
Now just five years later, Hunt will compete on the world's stage at the Sochi Winter Paralymic Games. On the slopes, he will wear a helmet with an American flag and Purple Heart.
"Still today I say the real ones who deserve the Purple Heart are the ones who didn't make it back. All my friends who died, they've got my back on this race," Hunt said. "I'm going to represent the United States with the best run I can ever do of my life."
Hunt has used skiing and golf as ways to help other veterans heal through the Wounded Warrior Project. He's been credited in helping many vets find their ways back after serving.
Since he began skiing, Hunt says skiing has helped him physically. When he first started, he was bound to a wheelchair and on 15 different medications. Today, he's on three and no longer needs his wheelchair.
"After seeing all of the results, when I see my name in black-and-white, to the right, it says 'Country,' and I finally recognized that for once, I can fight for my country in a different form," he said. "I'm not only blessed, but I'm honored to represent the United States in Sochi."
Hunt will leave for the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games on Sunday.