Doug Pringle (left) enjoys the spring conditions at Alpine Meadows.
It’s a chaotic scene at the Disabled Sports headquarters first thing in the morning. The sun has yet to hit the large white tent set up on bulletproof snow, and everyone is moving fast to stay warm. Volunteers are signing up vets and sponsors and passing out race bibs. After the crowd clears, I sit down with Doug Pringle, a Vietnam vet who lost his right leg in combat in June of 1968, to discover what brought these soldiers to Tahoe. Pringle is tall and broad, speaking in a no-nonsense tone and moving across the icy ground with only a slight hitch in his step. Pringle tells me that when World War II vets came to his San Francisco hospital to invite amputees to visit Donner Summit and learn to ski, he thought they were nuts. Then he heard what his friends had to say about the experience.
“They said, ‘Oh, it was great, we got drunk and there were women up there,’” Pringle says. “I said, ‘Sign me up! I’m there, I’m all about that.’”
Although the stump of his leg was still an open wound, Pringle fell in love with skiing. He would travel to Tahoe for the weekend, returning to the hospital Sunday nights to be prepped for surgery on Mondays.
“It was the first thing I did after losing my leg that started me thinking about what I could do instead of what I couldn’t,” Pringle says from a plastic folding chair, greeting people moving in and out of the tent as he tells me his story. “It really changed my life. It was so meaningful for me that it became my life’s work. I’ve been doing it ever since.” Pringle went on to become the president of Disabled Sports USA Far West, and is constantly looking for ways in which to reach out to wounded vets. Disabled Sports was walking the wards of Walter Reed Army Medical Center at the beginning of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and Pringle wants to get vets involved as instructors and mentors. But for today, he is focusing on teaching them how to ski.