Tag Archives: Adaptive Sports

Service members show mettle at Warrior Games

NCO Journal report

After a week of intense international competition, the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games drew to a close Tuesday at West Point, New York, with Team Army winning the wheelchair basketball championship, followed by a medal ceremony, a concert and fireworks.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley reminded the audience that the competitors — representing the Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard, Marines, U.S. Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom armed forces — were the best of the best.

“This is a tough competition,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize what this competition means. First of all, you had to walk the hallowed grounds of the battlefield or you had to get injured or sick in the service of your nation. That alone makes you the best of the best.”

Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall prepares to serve in a sitting volleyball match at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall prepares to serve in a sitting volleyball match at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

Milley noted that the Warrior Games competitors had earned their places at the games by competing against a field of 2,000 to 3,000 other athletes at regional and service-level trials in track and field, swimming, shooting, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling and wheelchair basketball.

“They had to meet Paralympic standards,” Milley said. “The coaches, the staff, the referees were all professionals and former Paralympians. The standards were high. This is a tough competition.

“There’s not an athlete on this field who got there by themselves,” he said. “They got there because of their families, their caregivers, their medical professionals, their coaches, their friends and countless others. You’re a tremendously inspiring group of people. Thank you so much for your spirit of competition and your resiliency.”

Members of the U.S. Special Operations Command Warrior Games team held up comedian Jon Stewart and his son 11-year-old son, Nate, during opening ceremonies of the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Members of the U.S. Special Operations Command Warrior Games team held up comedian Jon Stewart and his son 11-year-old son, Nate, during opening ceremonies of the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

From June 15 to 21, wounded, ill and injured athletes competed for gold, silver and bronze medals, pushing through injuries, getting engaged and reconnecting with friends. For some, this was their last Defense Department Warrior Games, and their next competition will be the Invictus Games. For others, the road to the Paralympics is just beginning.

It was the last Warrior Games for medically retired Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall, but she ended with a bang — she beat her personal record in the discus to win gold, took home gold in the shot put and was part of the bronze-winning Army sitting volleyball team.

“I knew it was going to be pretty emotional, and it was, when I threw the discus for the last time [and] when I threw shot put for the last time,” she said. “It’s kind of a sad ending, but not really, because I know what I’ve accomplished here. I’m thankful, and I plan on finding a way to give back to others.”

Southall’s family was there to support her throughout her final day of competition. “It’s been a very emotional day, said her aunt, Mary Ward, who spent her 60th birthday cheering on her niece. “I’ve had my eye on her and didn’t know how she was going to be affected this last day. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Southall’s wife, Tempestt, said it was emotional for her, because she knows how much the Warrior Games mean to Monica.

“I know how much it means to her to come out and compete and how emotional it was going to be for her to get out there and give it her all and just do extraordinary like she did,” she said. “She loves to be with her teammates. I’m just very proud that she has had the opportunity to do it for as long as she did, and she still has the support from us.”

Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall won gold medals in discus and shot put in the track and field events at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Army Sgt. Monica “Mo” Southall won gold medals in discus and shot put in the track and field events at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

Southall has earned several medals at the DoD Warrior Games, Invictus Games and Valor Games throughout the years. She said she hopes to compete in the Invictus Games again, mainly for powerlifting.

“I made a mental mistake that’s going to haunt me, so I have to have a chance to redeem myself, so I’d like to do one more just for powerlifting,” she said with a smile. “I’d like to do other events, but that’s the main event I’m chasing.”

The final Warrior Games competition of the week was wheelchair basketball, and Army retained its title, dominating Team Marine Corps 62-23 for the gold.

Though the athletes felt a sense of accomplishment with the medals, most of them said their biggest takeaway from the week was the sense of camaraderie and friendship. This year, the Warrior Games added Heart of the Team awards. These were awarded to one member on each team who best exemplified the camaraderie of the sport. The teams chose whom received the awards and surprised each recipient.

The recipients were medically retired Army Sgt. Ryan Major, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dakota Boyer, medically retired Navy Airman Austin Chance Field, medically retired Air Force Capt. Chris Cochrane, SOCOM Navy Lt. Ramesh Haytasingh and Royal Marine Justin Montague.

A Team Army competitor for the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games helps Sgt. Ryan Major off the bus at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, West Point, New York. (DoD photo)
A Team Army competitor for the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games helps Sgt. Ryan Major off the bus at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, West Point, New York. (DoD photo)

Boyer said he was surprised to receive the award.

“It was the best feeling I’ve felt in a long time,” he said. “I was cheering my teammates on to win and to do good things. I was never not going to cheer for them. This event was one of the greatest feelings in the world. You have a full team behind you and support. You’re never going to find the love like this anywhere else and people who know what you’re going through.”

Major told Fox News that adaptive sports helped save him after an explosion took both his legs.

“It was really dark for me, going from being completely independent, a true athlete, to losing my legs,” he said. “Then I started getting into sports, and it was like I could see the light — very dim, but as I pushed forward, it got brighter. And eventually, I was able to touch the light.”

Major won six medals, including two golds, in track and field events and also medaled in a cycling event and a swimming event.

The Warrior Games began last week when Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger, with help from comedian Jon Stewart, lit the official torch during the event’s opening ceremonies.

“Being selected to light the torch is as much an honor and privilege as competing for Team Army,” Elmlinger said. “Finishing my Warrior Games career as Team Army captain and lighting the torch at the opening ceremony is by far the most amazing experience. It’s humbling to see the support from the Warrior Transition Command throughout my time on Team Army, and I graciously thank them for allowing me to participate as torch bearer in this event.”

About 250 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans competed in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball at the academy.

U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Ana Manciaz of Los Lunas, N.M., and U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Stefan LeRoy of Santa Rosa, Calif., run track at Shea Stadium in preparation for the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Ana Manciaz of Los Lunas, N.M., and U.S. Army veteran Sgt. Stefan LeRoy of Santa Rosa, Calif., run track at Shea Stadium in preparation for the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

Stewart said during the opening ceremony that he’s uplifted by the tenacity displayed by the wounded, ill and injured athletes.

Considering the Orlando tragedy, he said, “This has been a difficult week for what I like to call ‘Team Civilization.’ The horrors we witnessed can make you feel as though you’ve lost faith in our ability to persevere through those times.

“When I say I’m in need of your support, there’s almost nothing in this world that gives me more support than witnessing the tenacity, the resilience and the perseverance of our wounded warriors in their endeavors,” he said. “They’re the ones that make me feel like we’re going to be OK.”

Stewart, who attended events throughout the competition, said he brought his 11-year- old son, Nate, so he could meet the wounded warriors.

“People ask me, ‘How do you talk to your kids about violence that occurs in this world?’” he said. “And I realized it’s time to stop telling him about the rare individuals who do harm and tell him more about the people whose names we don’t know and whose resilience and tenacity we can witness. That’s why I’m here today. I’m here to show him that the depth and strength of those whose names you may never know is the depth and strength of this country, and is the depth and strength that will allow us to overcome.”

Stewart, who has accompanied several USO tours overseas in combat zones, also has visited many times with wounded warriors at military hospitals.

“I’ve seen what these individuals have to go through. They have faced the worst that humanity has to throw at them, and they decided not to allow themselves to be defined by that act but to be defined by their actions following that act, their actions of getting up off that floor. I’ve seen the blood, sweat and tears they’ve gone through to get here ─ and the profanity. If you go to the physical therapy room at Walter Reed, there’s a lot of profanity,” he said with a smile. “They do it with pride, and when they fall, their colleagues and their loved ones pick them up and don’t let them give up, so I applaud the families and the caregivers here today.”

Army Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo competes in discus at the track and field events at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Army Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo competes in discus at the track and field events at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

More than 40 current and former members of the Army competed in this year’s Warrior Games, and more than half of them are noncommissioned officers.

Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo, of San Antonio, Texas, experienced multiple injuries while serving as a combat medic, including to his ankle and left knee, a bulging disc, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.

“I was told by my orthopedic surgeon, who was also a triathlete, that I could no longer run or upright cycle again in 2012,” Pardo said. “He told me to try swimming and recumbent cycling. I kind of scoffed at that because, to me, that wasn’t really physically demanding. I almost took it as an insult. He took away everything I did for physical fitness. I couldn’t just pick up a pair of sneakers and just run anymore or take my cycling shoes and my bike and just go riding.”

But after a couple of weeks, “I decided to give this cycling and swimming thing a shot,” he said.

Pardo’s main events during this year’s Warrior Games were archery, cycling, swimming and sitting volleyball. He also participated in track and field events.

In 2014, Pardo participated in the Army Trials held at West Point and won the gold medal for recumbent cycling with a 2-minute lead.

“Cycling helped me heal,” Pardo said. “Before that, I was focused on what I couldn’t do.

After I started cycling, I felt like I was back. It helps me get rid of the agitation; it helps me push through a lot of the physical barriers. I don’t feel like I’m broken anymore. I’m not a defective piece of equipment. Look at what I have done.

“When I’m riding and swimming, you can’t text or call me,” he said. “Whatever it is, it can wait till later; I’m in my zone.”

U.S. Army Reservist Staff Sgt. Ashley Anderson, who recently competed in British Prince Harry’s Invictus Games, also competed in the Warrior Games.

Anderson suffers from a herniated disc in her lower back and heart problems, “along with behavioral health issues,” she said.

Anderson suffered the injuries during a second deployment in Guantanamo Bay and was introduced to adaptive sports while recovering at Fort Riley, Kansas. She also competed in the 2015 Warrior Games.

This year, she participated won three medals in swimming events and another for her role on the sitting volleyball team.

Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger broke the meet record in the recumbent cycle at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)
Army Capt. Kelly Elmlinger broke the meet record in the recumbent cycle at the 2016 Defense Department Warrior Games. (DoD photo)

But these Games aren’t just about friendly competition among injured active and veteran service members from the branches, Anderson told Channel 12-KEYC in Mankato, Minnesota, near where she is from. It provides a community.

“It’s hard, you know, outside of here to talk about our injuries with other people,” she said. “It’s easier to talk, to get help, see how other deal with their recovery and get advice from them.”

Anderson told KYEC, “I want to achieve a personal best but mostly, the important thing is going out here, having fun and meeting everybody else from the branches and just having a great experience.”

When Milley declared the games closed, he handed the Warrior Games torch off to Navy Vice Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Navy Installations Command, to symbolize the start of the run-up for the next games, which the Navy will host in Chicago next June.

A C-17 Globemaster III from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, conducted a flyover. Actor Gary Sinise performed a concert with his Lt. Dan Band for the athletes and their families, and then a fireworks display closed out the evening.

But this is just one major step in the road to recovery for wounded, ill and injured service members.

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Allan Armstrong, of Fort Hood, Texas, competed in archery and credited the Warrior Transition Battalions for getting him into archery.

“Adaptive sports gave me the confidence to recover,” Armstrong said. “It takes time to go through this process.”

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Gregory Quarles, from Ringgold, Georgia, also competed in archery events.

“I picked shooting archery at adaptive sports at the WTB,” Quarles said. “If there’s someone out there that needs it, adaptive sports is a lifesaver. Get out there and do what you got to do. You’re not alone.”

Shannon Collins of Defense Department News contributed to this article.

Wounded Soldiers compete in Army Trials for a shot at the Warrior Games

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal
Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting prepares for the archery event of the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting prepares for the archery event of the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Retired Sgt. Scotty Hasting closed his eyes, blocking out the surrounding distractions. He took a deep breath and focused on the feel of the bow in his hand before opening his eyes and letting his arrow fly during the Army Trials on March 31 at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Hasting was one of about 75 active-duty Soldiers and veterans who competed from March 29 to April 2 in cycling, shooting, archery, track and field, wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball and swimming for spots on the Army team headed to the Department of Defense Warrior Games in June. Only 40 athletes will be selected to defend the Army’s title against the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Special Operations Command during the competition at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va.

The Marines won the Chairman’s Cup, presented to the top overall service branch, at the first four Warrior Games, but the Army took the cup for the first time in 2014.

“You know the Marine Corps makes a lot of noise, but we speak through performance,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew T. Brady, command sergeant major for the Warrior Transition Command. “They’ll have home turf, but we look to keep our cup.”

Recovery through sports

The trials, conducted by the Warrior Transition Command, are part of the Army Warrior Care and Transition program, which aids in the recovery of wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans as they transition back into the force or the civilian community.

Master Sgt. Shawn Vosburg, assigned to the WTB at Fort Bliss, takes aim during the rifle event of the Army Trials on March 30 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Master Sgt. Shawn Vosburg, assigned to the WTB at Fort Bliss, takes aim during the rifle event of the Army Trials on March 30 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

“Our adaptive reconditioning program is a critical part of warriors’ transition,” Brady said. “It’s not just a sports program. It’s a program of activity in support of the surgeon general’s Performance Triad – sleep, proper nutrition and activity. For many of these Soldiers, this is kind of their ‘new norm’ – picking up activities they may have never tried before. It’s a new outlet. So if you look at the shooting, it takes concentration, the ability to block out distractions, a great amount of discipline – and these are all things that set you up for other tasks in life.”

In addition to aiding in their physical and mental recovery, these sports give Soldiers a new passion and something to look forward to doing when they leave the military, Brady said. Veterans Affairs and civilian organizations offer adaptive sports programs all over the nation, and sponsors often help defray the cost. Transition coordinators within every Warrior Transition Unit work to connect Soldiers with these organizations when they leave, Brady said, as should NCOs across the Army as they help injured and ill Soldiers prepare for life outside the military.

“We have them for maybe two years, but these Soldiers will be veterans for the rest of their lives,” Brady said. “We have got to set them up for success down the road.

“I hope NCOs realize I only have a certain number of these individuals in this Integrated Disability Evaluation System process — I only have a fraction of them. The majority of them are out in the force. They are out in the force and being led by NCOs, and as they go through the challenges of recovery, these same sports are available to them. What I need NCOs to do is to support this type of activity because that individual is going to leave our military, and we don’t want them becoming sedentary. We don’t want them leaving and feeling like they don’t have something to look forward to. I need NCOs’ support.”

Mentoring others

Spc. Sydney Davis, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va., prepares to throw the shotput during the Army Warrior Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss.  (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Spc. Sydney Davis, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Va., prepares to throw the shotput during the Army Warrior Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Many of the NCOs leaving the Warrior Transition Battalion have found a new use for their leadership skills within civilian and veteran adaptive sports programs, Brady said.

“In the Army, we make leaders,” he said. “That’s just what we do. And these civilian organizations have individuals who grew up with challenges, were born with challenges or may have gotten it by the result of some kind of trauma. … Now, our Soldier is going to have the opportunity as a veteran to be in this same group with them and provide mentorship – they will be able to use those leadership skills to be a mentor to a young child, for example, who has never known what it is like to walk.”

Training for the Warrior Games has helped Hasting recover from the 10 gunshot wounds he suffered in Afghanistan – five in the shoulder and five in the hip – and he is eager to help others, he said, to overcome the challenges he knows too well.

“The NCO inside of me wants to help all these other people who are down,” Hasting said. “The values that are instilled in us as NCOs, the way that we are programmed – it’s not about us; it’s more about trying to help everyone else out.

“If you’re having troubles, I’ve been there. It’s hard to get back up and back at it. But it will work out better in the long run if you just get up and do something. As an NCO, I try to push that.”

If he is chosen for the team, this will be Hasting’s second year at the Warrior Games, and he said he seeks out opportunities to mentor others wanting to shoot competitively.

“Archery is my favorite – when everything else is going on, for the time that you are shooting, it’s just you and that bow,” he said. “Nothing else matters. That’s why I gravitate toward archery. It’s that outlet for me.”

A new normal

Sgt. Joshua Palmer can attest to the life-changing aspect of an adaptive sports program. For him, smaller injuries built upon one another, eventually leading to a debilitating condition that would end his military aspirations. During the Special Forces selection process, Palmer shattered his ankles and had to have both completely reconstructed.

Staff Sgt. Max Hasson, assigned to the WTB in Fort Carson, Colo., throws during the seated discus event of the Army Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Max Hasson, assigned to the WTB in Fort Carson, Colo., throws during the seated discus event of the Army Trials on April 1 at Fort Bliss. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

“You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” he said. “When you spend eight months on bed rest, it’s a really humbling experience. If I wanted something to eat, I would literally have to low-crawl to the kitchen and sit on the floor by the fridge and eat an apple.”

Palmer had to accept that he could no longer be an engineer deep-sea diver. He would never join Special Forces. His career had come to a halt.

The adaptive sports program gave him his life back.

“I never thought I would be this active again,” he said. “Never.”

He went from not being able to walk to competing in almost every event of the Army Trials. The experience taught him a lot, he said, about the kind of leadership a Soldier needs while recovering. Encouragement is key, he said, but it is also important to not push an individual too far.

“If an NCO has a good Soldier who gets hurt, he or she needs to allow that Soldier time to recover,” he said. “Listen to him. Be genuine, and take the time to get to know him. Know his 100 percent, and then know his injury 100 percent. And be respectful of that, because you can hurt that Soldier in the long run if you push him to be too active.”

Palmer is retiring soon, but he said if he were going back into his field, he would take a more active role in his Soldiers’ health and well-being.

“I would be more involved,” Palmer said. “I would go with them to their initial appointments, follow up with their doctors. I’d get reports from their doctors on how they are doing, so that the way I talk to and encourage the Soldier is in-line with the doctor’s recommendations. I would be much more respectful and understanding of that Soldier’s recovery, because now I have been there.”

Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, swims the 25-meter breaststroke during the Army Trials on April 2 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, swims the 25-meter breaststroke during the Army Trials on April 2 at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Face of Defense: Soldier Prepares for Warrior Games

By BENNY ONTIVEROS
U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command

Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper is using adaptive sports as a bridge for her transition to civilian life.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper takes a moment to study the practice track before an Army Trials cycling practice event at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 24, 2015. About 80 seriously wounded ill and injured service members and veterans from across the country are competing for Army team spots in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (U.S. Army photo by Benny Ontiveros)
Army Sgt. 1st Class Katie Kuiper takes a moment to study the practice track before an Army Trials cycling practice event at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 24, 2015. About 80 seriously wounded ill and injured service members and veterans from across the country are competing for Army team spots in the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (U.S. Army photo by Benny Ontiveros)

Kuiper, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, suffered a head injury that proved to be challenging, but through the Army physical fitness and adaptive sports program, her goals are quickly being reached. She’ll be involved in the Army trials being held March 30 through April 3 at Fort Bliss, Texas, in preparation for the 2015 Warrior Games slated June 19-28 at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Virginia.

The trials are conducted by the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command, based in Alexandria, Virginia. Kuiper is one of about 80 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans from across the country participating in events including shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, track and field, and Kuiper’s favorite, cycling.

Kuiper is involved in two scheduled training events, but she participated in cycling practice March 24 to “relax my head injury,” she said.

“Cycling is relaxing to me,” Kuiper added, “and I can forget about everything else.”

Focusing Her Energy

Finding ways to recover from injuries can be difficult for wounded service members, but Kuiper focused her energy on cycling, which will prepare her for her other training events such as track and field. She quickly acclimated to cycling and safely stretched her muscles before taking a cycle ride on the approved tank trail.

The challenging part was learning new cycling techniques from the cycling coach. “The cycling lessons are new and insightful,” she said.

Cycling coach Jim Pensereyes, from San Diego, taught Kuiper and other wounded warriors to ride their cycles correctly through the turns on the practice trail.

Better With Each Practice Run

“It’s an honor and absolutely amazing to see these brave individuals cycle through the course and even better to see when they take my advice,” he said. “They just get better and better with each practice run.”

Kuiper and other wounded warriors adjusted to this new method despite the challenges it presented. By the end of the practice, they cycled with ease. Several cycling coaches were on hand to help them learn proper riding techniques.

“Being here is instrumental to my well-being,” Kuiper said, “and by interacting with other wounded warriors, it brings great joy to me and puts a huge smile to my face.”

 

 

Boxing gloves help amputees learn strength and confidence

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

For the more than 1,000 Soldiers who’ve lost a limb during combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, the road to recovery is long and hard. Learning how to walk, use the restroom, cook, shop and change the baby’s diaper again requires retraining the body, mind and spirit. And one of the best ways to accomplish this training, according to a team at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., is with boxing gloves.

“This is more than just going on a trip or playing sports, it’s about giving [amputee] Soldiers life, and giving back a sense of normalcy after their procedure,” said Harvey Naranjo, the Military Adaptive Sports Program coordinator at Walter Reed. “We are providing a treatment, not just a fun extracurricular activity. Our goal is for them to learn everything they need to learn so they can apply it once they leave here.”

Sgt. Eric Hunter (right) practices punch combinations with David Sheehi, a volunteer coach with the boxing adaptive sports program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., in July.
Sgt. Eric Hunter (right), who lost a leg in combat, practices punch combinations to help regain his balance with David Sheehi, a volunteer coach with the boxing adaptive sports program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., in July. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

The program, housed under the rehabilitation department at the nation’s premier center for wounded warrior care, is designed to help service members learn to use different muscles to compensate for the loss of a limb. Through the varied mechanics of sports such as archery, rowing, skiing and lacrosse, combined with field trips into real-world settings, Soldiers develop strength and agility, especially those learning to walk with prostheses, Naranjo said. But nothing develops balance and confidence like adaptive boxing, said Sgt. Eric Hunter of the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky., a recent program participant.

“The hardest thing for me with my prosthetic was just being confident in myself,” he said. “I was able to stand up. But in my head, I guess, I was just scared to. Definitely, boxing has helped build confidence in my balance. When you first come in here, you can throw maybe one punch, and then you’re falling down, trying to gather your balance again. After being down here, I’m pretty much able to stand up the whole time. I may lose my balance a couple times, but it’s been a tremendous improvement.”

That confidence helps those in the program be better NCOs, said Staff Sgt. Nick Lavery, a program participant from the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“I think this program creates a better leader, and it trains future leaders as they are developing into NCOs,” he said. “It breeds mental toughness and confidence in what your body is able to do. It’s a direct translation to what we do professionally: You’re building a skill set that you’re able to take back to your professional environment.”

The training also develops a different style of leadership, Lavery said.

“It’s a humbling sport for sure,” he said. “A lot of military guys are type-A, confident dudes, and they don’t want to necessarily take a risk or the chance of going into a situation where they may not feel so superior. But once you’re able to get past that kind of mental block, and you take that humbled approach, you’ll realize huge benefits.”

 

Intense — physically and mentally

Though the program trains participants in the basics of boxing, the goal is not to create the next Floyd Mayweather Jr., said David Sheehi, a boxing coach who volunteers with the program.

“It’s not about fighting. We’re not really trying to teach them how to go into the ring and do this for a living,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is just use the sport in a positive way — the fitness part of it. In boxing, those athletes are some of the fittest in the world. When you try to train a football player or baseball player to be a boxer, they just can’t do it. They’ll go three or four minutes and just get tired out.”

Boxing provides a physical and mental workout that is not easily matched, Sheehi said.

Marine Corps Sgt. Ryan Donnelly (left) practices punch combinations with Michael Martin, a volunteer coach with Walter Reed's boxing adaptive sports program. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)
Marine Corps Sgt. Ryan Donnelly (left) practices punch combinations with Michael Martin, a volunteer coach with Walter Reed’s boxing adaptive sports program. (Photo by Michael L. Lewis)

“It’s a very strenuous activity, and it keeps them in shape without running,” he said. “A lot of them can’t run yet, and they can’t do the ellipticals or bicycles yet either. So what do we do? What we do is we work the upper body. It works just as well, it burns just as many calories as just doing the lower body, and it keeps their weight down.”

The intensity surprises many, said Sgt. Christopher Hemwall, a participant formerly with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany.

“My first day, I spent two hours working down here,” he said. “The next day, I woke up, and I couldn’t move my left arm or my back at all — I was so sore. So that was surprising. No one warned me about that.”

Because participants don’t fight each other — they work individually with coaches on various punch positions and combinations — even those with traumatic brain injury can participate and reap the benefits, Sheehi said.

“They never spar. We have no contact at all,” he said. “Because the purpose of this is not for competition, it’s therapy, that’s why it’s very safe, even for TBI patients. Originally, they didn’t even want TBI patients to touch this — no way! So we had to show them that it helps TBI patients with the thinking process as we throw numbers of combinations out.”

The moves and training also reinforce soldiering skills many participants feel have faded as they’ve worked through the laborious rehabilitation process, Sheehi said.

“A lot of them feel vulnerable now that they have a prosthesis or are missing a limb,” he said. “So we show them how to dodge a punch and how to counter a punch. It doesn’t matter [that they’ve lost a limb], because all the power comes from your hips, not the legs. As long as they’ve got that, they can do this and be just as good at it as someone with uninjured legs and arms. When they see that, you can see the look in their face: ‘Wow, I am somebody. I can do just like I did before.’”

Hemwall, for example, was looking to regain his agility through the training.

“The biggest reason I was doing it was learning the stance, the movement,” he said. “I’m not so much worried about how to take a hit or how to throw a punch, but I’m trying to learn how to move lightly on my feet again now that I have a prosthetic. I like to think that I used to be pretty quick and agile, and I’d like to get back to that.”

The training is also helping him return to form as a role model for those he will lead.

“It’s helping me get back into physical shape, and being an NCO, you’ve got to lead by example,” Hemwall said. “If you are not in shape, then that’s what your Soldiers will be. Boxing teaches you discipline.”

 

Light at the end of the tunnel

Oftentimes, the most significant injuries participants have to tackle are emotional or psychological, Naranjo said.

“I had one patient who couldn’t walk on what we call shorties — a patient with significant limb loss, we put them on these little stubbies to learn how to walk and we graduate up, up, up,” he said. “For some of them, it’s really difficult to walk around, especially if they used to be 6 feet tall. Well, one patient would never get out of his chair; he would never use his stubbies. But if you don’t learn to use your stubbies, then you won’t be able to develop the core muscles required to walk.

“So we were at this restaurant, and this guy was with his buddies. But the ramp was too narrow for him to get up with his wheelchair. But he saw his buddies — all amputees with prostheses — getting out of their chairs and going up into the restaurant. So this guy had to do it, too. He walked for the first time in public so that he could be with his peers and participate. Long story short, he’s now a Paralympian.”

Sheehi recalled an even more dramatic transformation.

“We had a female Soldier come through here who had been injured about 3 months beforehand. She really just did not want to talk to anybody; she was still in shock,” he said. “When I talked to her, she really didn’t want anything to do with it (boxing). It took a couple times for her to try, but once she did it, she opened up like a flower. Everybody in the entire room could not believe that she was talking, she was having a fun time, she was enjoying herself. This opened her up. She saw light at the end of the tunnel.”

And that’s the whole point of the program, Naranjo said — give recovering Soldiers and NCOs hope that they can do everything and anything again.

“This is as valid a treatment as any other medical discipline that is out there. It’s not all fun and games,” he said. “It lets us assess their full function outside the clinic. How did they navigate the airport? How did they use the restroom? If they were on a bus trip and it only had one of those tiny little bathrooms, how did that quadruple amputee use the restroom? Oh, the baby is crying on the bus and needs a diaper change. Can he change that diaper with one arm? On that bus? So we are assessing their whole ability to function in all those little things that we usually take for granted.”

And though the program is designed to teach independence, it is only together that Soldiers actually heal, Lavery said.

“Nobody’s here to embarrass anybody or beat anybody up,” he said. “It’s about us all getting better and growing both in the sport as well as individual Soldiers.”

NCO looks to claim more gold medals at Warrior Games

By STAFF SGT. BRENT C. POWELL
210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Some men are born to be famous. Some are born to be businessmen; some scientists, some engineers, astronauts or even rock stars. Sgt. Delvin Maston says he was born to be an athlete, and plans on showcasing his world-class athletic skills during the 2013 Warrior Games this week in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Each year over the course of a week, the games showcase the resilient spirit of close to 200 wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans from all branches of the military. After having overcome significant physical and behavioral health injuries, these men and women come together to demonstrate the power of abilities over disabilities.

Sgt. Delvin Maston, a former infantryman and current adaptive sports representative for the Warrior Transition Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, reaches up to set the volleyball for his team during sitting volleyball practice at Iron Horse Gym at Fort Carson, Colo., May 9, 2013. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Brent C. Powell)
Sgt. Delvin Maston, a former infantryman and current adaptive sports representative for the Warrior Transition Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, reaches up to set the volleyball for his team during sitting volleyball practice at Iron Horse Gym at Fort Carson, Colo., May 9, 2013. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Brent C. Powell)

Maston has competed in the games during the past two years and has made an impressive showing, claiming three gold medals and one bronze. This year, he has his sights set on adding more gold to his growing trophy case.

“I am here to win a gold medal in every event I’m competing in,” said the Birmingham, Ala., native. “I love winning. A lot of people say it’s not about the medals, but I would be lying if I said that.”

Maston is scheduled to compete in three of the seven events at the games — sitting volleyball, swimming and wheelchair basketball. In 2011 and 2012, he claimed gold medals in wheelchair basketball and last year, snagged gold in sitting volleyball. He hopes to repeat those victories and add one more during this year’s swimming competition.

His athletic abilities surfaced at a young age, he said.

“I have been playing competitive basketball since I was 5 years old,” he said. “Five of the guys that I played with in high school went on to play professionally.”

After high school, his basketball skills continued to grow. He attended Miles College in Birmingham, where he played point guard for their basketball team. After graduating college, he decided to join the Army as an infantryman in 2003.

The war in Iraq had just begun, and it wasn’t long before Maston had his boots on the ground with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. Over the course of the next several years, Maston spent 47 months on the ground in Iraq in combat operations.

When he wasn’t deployed, he continued to pursue his passion of basketball, and he spent a few years playing on the All-Army Basketball Team.

In June of 2009, Maston’s life took an unexpected and tragic turn when a vehicle accident claimed his right leg. Though the accident took a part of him away, it did not take his competitive spirit. Approximately 90 days after the accident, he was back in the game.

“It was Labor Day 2009,” he recalls. “A friend of mine who I played high school ball with pushed my wheelchair out onto a basketball court and told me to shoot the ball. I missed the whole basket, but he told me to keep shooting. And I have been shooting baskets ever since.”

Although basketball is his passion, he seems to excel at every sport he plays. He has played for the Parasport San Antonio Wheelchair Spurs and joined the USA Volleyball high-performance sitting volleyball team as team captain. He also claimed a bronze medal at last year’s Warrior Games for his skill in shot put.

Competing in adaptive sports seems to be Maston’s calling, and he says it has really helped his healing process.

“This is the best medicine you can get,” he said. “It’s the biggest stress release you can receive in the best social gathering you can get.”

Maston hopes his desire to win will inspire others.

“Hopefully our competitive spirit will rub off on people, not just in competitive sports, but in life,” he said . “I want more people to get involved in adaptive sports, and I hope that the Warrior Games helps get the word out to all injured service members.”

This will be Maston’s last year at the Warrior Games. He says he is ready to let someone else take his place, but he says he’s not leaving empty handed.

“I guarantee I’m going home this year with at least two medals.”