Kokomo Strong

Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana May 14, 2014 Paralympian Joel Hunt teaches children to adapt Kokomo native, Army veteran visits YMCA Child Care Development Center By Lauren Fitch Kokomo Tribune 
Kokomo Tribune 

—- — Army veteran and Paralympic skier Joel Hunt has plenty of stories he could share from his time at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, his three tours of Iraq or even growing up in Kokomo.

But as he addressed children at the YMCA Child Care Development Center Tuesday, Hunt kept his message simple: Adapt.

“When I was little, I didn’t know I was going to be a skier. I didn’t know I was going to go to the Olympics,” Hunt said. “When I came back [from Iraq], I was hurt. But I adapted.”

Hunt, a 1998 graduate of Northwestern High School, was injured in a 2005 roadside blast during his third deployment to Iraq in three years. Along with being paralyzed in his left leg, Hunt suffered a traumatic brain injury.

He started skiing as part of his rehab and went on to represent the U.S. on the Paralympic Alpine Ski Team.

Hunt reminded the children that people’s disabilities are not always evident. He asked them to raise their hands if they wear glasses, can whistle or can roll their tongues to point out that each person has different abilities.

“It’s very important you treat each other with respect and don’t make fun of another person,” Hunt said.

Hunt’s service dog Barrett helped demonstrate his point about the importance of adapting. Barrett showed off his ability to open a door, and Hunt described how he had trained the dog to start a washing and drying machine, fold laundry and iron.

While it may seem impossible for a dog to do those things, Hunt said, Barrett adapted and people can adapt to changing circumstances too.

“Tough times don’t last; tough people do,” Hunt said. “One of the greatest things about being on the big stage is now I get to go places and talk to people like you.”

The chance to pet Barrett was a highlight for the children, though Hunt explained that normally people are not allowed to pet service dogs. He ended his visit to the YMCA center by setting up relay races for the children.

Trish Severns, operations director for the YMCA, was glad to see how they responded to Hunt.

“He has such a heart for what he does,” she said. “He came with a great message and the kids really heard him.”

Education reporter Lauren Fitch can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at lauren.fitch@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @LaurenBFitch.