A big smile lights up Casper resident Omar Bermejo’s face when he remembers the Olympic Village at the 2014 Winter Paralympics.
“They have everything for you there, man,” Bermejo said with a laugh.
He recalled the gym, the food, and the games, but most of all he remembers the people.
Bermejo met Nordic skiers from every corner of the world. Even athletes representing nations in turmoil broke bread together, he said.
“I hung out with guys from Russia and Ukraine. We talked about it a little, and then we moved past it,” Bermejo said. “That’s what I love about sport. It has the ability to bring everybody together.”
In Bermejo’s case, sport has helped him overcome tragedy.
Bermejo crushed his right arm against a guardrail in a June 2008 motorcycle accident shortly after returning from his fourth tour in Iraq. The wreck left his nerves severed and his arm useless.
In December 2011, he finally had it amputated.
During rehab, Bermejo was introduced to skiing. After his amputation, biathlon coach Rob Rosser asked him to give the sport a try competitively.
“It had shooting, which I was already pretty good at,” Bermejo said. “It reminded me of my time in the Marines.”
Biathlon combines the endurance of Nordic ski races as long as 12 miles with the mental focus and steady nerves required for sharpshooting.
For Paralympic athletes, the gun is mounted onto a metal spring, which allows the gun to move freely, Bermejo said.
He was invited to join the U.S. National team in 2012. He became a national champion in the standing division and earned a trip to Sochi. He has trained all over the world, including at the renowned facilities at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Now, he lives and trains in Casper, splitting time between the mountain and the Platte River Parkway.
Bermejo shares a vision with Rosser of turning the cross-country skiing on Casper Mountain into a world-class Nordic and biathlon venue with outdoor and indoor ranges and other training facilities.
“I have friends in Washington, Oregon. Right now everyone on the West Coast has to go to the East Coast to train,” Bermejo said. “They tell me (that) if this was built, they would already be here.”
Natrona County commissioners have sponsored a $500,000 grant application to the Wyoming Business Council to help make that vision a reality. The club had raised another $500,000 as of February.
The work would also open mountain biking and other summer opportunities, Rosser said in an earlier interview.
It could be a five- to 10-year process. But Bermejo said he’s in it for the long haul.
“I told Rob, whatever he needs, I want to help,” Bermejo said. “I’m excited to see what Casper has to offer.”