NEW GLOUCESTER – The Veterans Adaptive Sports and Training group (colloquially, “VAST”), which operates out of Pineland Farms, has a number of activities on its docket for the coming months, including its annual turkey hunt as well as a wheelchair basketball game organized in tandem with Deering High School.
VAST is a free program for vets with physical disabilities, traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress. A number of sports (beyond turkey hunts and wheelchair basketball) are also currently on offer: target archery; laser rifle shooting; fly fishing and spincast fishing; orienteering; boccia ball; snowshoeing; Nordic skiing; pellet rifle shooting; mountain, hand and recumbent cycling; fly tying; disc golf; wheelchair floor hockey and wheelchair tennis; Nordic pole walking; and bowling.
The program was founded by 48-year-old Kristina Sebasteanski of Windham, herself a vet. Sebasteanski was never deployed on active combat duty, but instead was in the Army as part of its World Class Athletes program. Sebasteanski is an accomplished biathlete who not only competed at the ’98 and ’02 Winter Olympics, but was also selected to carry the World Trade Center flag into the stadium at the Salt Lake City games.
First up on VAST’s schedule for near future is the turkey hunt, slated for May 7-11.
“This camp is limited to six veterans and most spots are filled,” Sebasteanski says, “but we welcome interested veterans to contact us, as they may qualify for next year’s event. We are looking for veterans with combat-related injuries that could benefit from the camaraderie of fellow Veterans during a three-day hunt.”
Participants in the hunt stay at the Merrill Farmhouse at Pineland Farms. The Farmhouse is a 21-bed, Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible guest residence.
“Last year we hosted six veterans,” Sebasteanski says, “including one with a spinal cord injury and five with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress or other orthopedic injuries. All six tagged two turkeys each.”
VAST provides guides for the hunt, helping to ensure a safe and productive experience for the vets. “The hunting guides were all volunteers,” Sebasteanski says, “and included Maine Registered Guides, Maine Game Wardens and Maine State Troopers.”
Later in May – on the 24th – VAST will host a wheelchair basketball game in the gym at Deering High School. Plenty of spots remain for interested vets and other participants.
“We were approached to organize a wheelchair basketball event for a high school athlete in a wheelchair who has always wanted to try wheelchair basketball,” Sebasteanski says. “VAST will be bringing our sport wheelchairs for this event. This is always a fun activity.”
Recently, VAST held a biathlon camp, which proved more than merely fun for some; for some, it proved life-changing. Sebasteanski relays feedback from a number of participants: “It was as if we were back in the barracks as brothers. It’s amazing to have that connection again,” says one, and “I have not felt part of something in quite a while,” says another.
“This camp was such a positive mind- and body-builder,” says a third. “It builds trust in ourselves to defeat our fears, to be stronger in our weaknesses. Thank you from my heart for everything.”
VAST is online at http://www.pinelandfarms.org/recreation/vast/ and
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME
The hunters and guides who participated in VAST’s 2016 turkey hunt pose to capture a group memory.
Homer McLemore of Windham guards the ball in a VAST game of wheelchair basketball, a very popular activity.