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At the top of the mountain, it’s incredible how much you can see. The sky is clear, the air is pure. It even smells different up here. The wind whips around the trees, shaking the snow from the pines. But inside your helmet - it’s completely quiet. The only sound you can hear is your steady, rhythmic breath. Any moment now, you’ll push yourself forward towards the slope. For now though, you stand and appreciate what it’s taken you to get here. Funny, the simplest things seem so beautiful after you think you’ll never get a chance to see them again. Lake Tahoe seems bluer. The snow feels like powder under your feet and it’s beckoning you to come play. The sun touches everything around you and the light dances off the trees. The view from the peak leaves you breathless. You’re at the top of the world. You tilt your head back, close your eyes, and inhale deeply. 

This, you think, is what it feels like to be alive.

Chris Wolff never imagined he’d be here. In fact, he never thought he’d see the outside of his C-130 troop transport plane. “I had accepted it,” he said. “I was going to die in the sky over Afghanistan.” But somehow, against all odds, he survived. Even though an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) penetrated the aircraft’s engine, the pilot “was able to limp the aircraft back to base.” Ironically, it wasn’t this harrowing experience but a virus vaccine that almost killed him. His spinal cord became infected, his white blood cell count skyrocketed, and within a matter of days doctors were telling him he would never walk, breathe, or eat on his own again. A month before that he was the picture of health, and now his life was unrecognizable to him.

Jake Schick is a third generation Marine. Everything about him “epitomizes service and sacrifice.” In 2004, a triple-stacked tank mine detonated below his vehicle in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. Jake suffered compound fractures in his left leg and arm; he endured burns, loss of skin, ligament, and bone, partial loss of his left hand and arm, amputation below the knee of his right leg, traumatic brain injury and PTSD. At the moment many people would give up and give in… Jake set to work. To date, Jake has undergone 46 operations, 23 blood transfusions, and countless hours of rehabilitation. In 2014, Jake appeared in the film American Sniper. And in 2015, he met a group of people who were going to change his life.

One non-profit is bringing military to the mountain (16 HQ Photos)

“Physical limitations,” he said, “are just that – physical limitations. They’re not mental limitations. How far are you willing to let that physical limit get ahead of your mentality? It’s all about trusting yourself and your ability, and just surrounding yourself with soul-feeders and you can do anything.

So that’s why I skied down the mountain.”

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“The worst thing about being stationed in Italy was that we had to wait to see Cat Saturday because of the time change!”

Not the words we were expecting from Michael and Brandi Akins, whose son Merrick was about to become Chive Charities’ newest recipient. In preparation for our call with the Akins family, we read their application and the narrative about Merrick’s short life, already riddled with so many painful obstacles, but also so much joy... so much hope. It was hard to believe this biography belonged to a 9 month-old! Brandi and Michael could easily choose to focus on the bad. They could hold onto the grim prognosis; they could be hurt by the many doctors’ words that their son wasn’t going to live. But falling into despair was the last thing on their mind - they were too busy being there for their son. Instead, they wanted to talk about Cat Saturday.

Chivers are the best kind of people.

For Michael, a US Navy Submariner stationed in Honolulu and Brandi, a Kindergarten teacher in Fresno, it was love at first sight. After dating for 3 years they were married and could barely wait to start a family, but their dream eluded them for years as they tried in vain for a baby. Following rounds of testing they discovered there was a very slim chance they could ever conceive. As Brandi and Michael struggled to accept this news, life intervened with an opportunity, as it so often does: Michael was offered a position to be stationed in Naples, Italy. So the couple moved, jumping on the chance to embrace this adventure. It was while in Italy they found out that “the unthinkable had come true” - Brandi was pregnant. As Brandi put it, “There had never been such joy.”

US Navy father learns true courage from his son (14 Photos)

When baby Merrick was rushed to the Emergency Room after he became limp and very pale, the triage nurse tested his blood oxygenation right away. Her face turned as white as a sheet as she looked at the results. “It says 45%,” she whispered, “but there’s no way that’s right. Most people are at 98 or 99%. He’d be unconscious…”

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