He’s played pro rugby, so JR LaPierre knows a bit about traumatic brain injury, a severe form of concussion.
That gives him some background when he meets military veterans with TBI, even though their injuries came on the battlefield, not the sports ground.
More important than knowledge is willingness and commitment. LaPierre, who’s coached young people and led nonprofits in addition to playing rugby, never served in the military. Now he serves those who have.
While working with vets is new for him, LaPierre has embraced it along with his other duties as managing director of Lincoln Hills Cares.
Lincoln Hills Cares is a charity founded by entrepreneurs Robert F. Smith and Matthew Burkett to make outdoor experiences available to underserved communities.
Today’s campers enjoy a site developed as a Rocky Mountain resort by earlier entrepreneurs, among them E.C. Regnier, Roger Ewalt, Obrey Wendell “Winks” Hamlet and Hamlet’s first wife Naomi and second wife Melba. In the 1920s, Lincoln Hills was an escape from the city for African-Americans who were turned away from other leisure establishments because of racism. Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Billy Eckstine were among the black stars who visited Winks Lodge when they were in Denver to perform. The Hamlets also hosted literary salons that drew Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Countee Cullen. In 1927 a Y girls’ camp was established at Lincoln Hills for African-American women and girls who were barred from the white Y camp at Lookout Mountain in Colorado.
The dawn of the Civil Rights era was the end of an era for Lincoln Hills. But while African-Americans have more choices about where to spend their recreational time, they don’t always have the means to get away. Smith and Burkett now use Lincoln Hills to offer opportunities to hike, camp and learn for young people who might not otherwise have a chance to experience the outdoors.
Smith and Burkett also established the Lincoln Hills Anglers of Honor program for veterans with disabilities and their families as well as for people with spinal cord and traumatic brain injury. Participants learn the basics of fly fishing in the former resort’s waters.
I had seen the healing power of water in Montrose during visits to that western Colorado town to research my book Home of the Brave.
Townspeople in Montrose had reached out to military veterans, wanting to help them reintegrate into civilian life. In return, vets helped lead a campaign to establish a water park that is designed to be used by able-bodied kayakers as well as those who are disabled and has drawn tourists to Montrose.
One of Montrose’s veteran leaders, Tim Kenney, took me fly fishing the first time I met him. I didn’t catch any fish, but I got to know Kenney at his most assured and patient. I stood alongside him in the Uncompahgre River. He talked me, a novice, through techniques that seem to come naturally to him.
Lincoln Hills’s LaPierre met me for coffee to talk about Home of the Brave because he wants to deepen his knowledge and understanding. He has seen vets sign up for the program but not show because they were afraid to leave the house. He’s also seen the transformative power of patience, physical activity and natural beauty.
Like Kenney, LaPierre is at ease when he is helping.