Battle Buddies

By Patricia Sands, WTC Stratcom

 SGT Delvin Maston and SPC Blake McMinn of the Army Warrior Games 2011

(Left to right) SGT Delvin Maston and SPC Blake McMinn of the Army Warrior Games 2011

The wheelchair basketball players crashed into a pile and a wheelchair turned over with its rider still holding on. With one swift and very strong movement, however, SPC Blake McMinn jumped the wheelchair straight in to the air and got himself and his wheelchair right up again. It came down with such force that he and his wheelchair bounced up in the air. It was a combo of gymnastics and martial arts. In a split second he was barreling down the lane, blocking the ball from another player. It was super human. These powerful Soldiers play one mean game of round ball.

McMinn’s feat also changed what I thought I knew about wheelchairs and the people in them. My Dad was paralyzed from a left-side stroke and it was my great honor to be a big part of his life during his recovery. That said, my Dad was older and frail, while these young athletes are not. They are strong, competitive, and agile. Watch them for a second and you see their ability—not their disability. They take a knock and can give a few out. They are athletes, and as one player said, “We came ready to deliver a whoopin’ to the Marines.”

The two players in the above picture are, right to left, SGT Delvin Maston and SPC Blake McMinn. They are teammates and battle buddies who had similar paths and experiences in their Army careers. For example, they were in the same battalion of 3,500 Soldiers; one was in Bravo Company and the other in Charlie Company. They served in the same place and same time. They were both injured in combat, both had amputations, and both had the same therapist during their recoveries. Yet they had never met. It was through their love of basketball that their paths finally crossed.

Adaptive sports play a big and positive part in these two Soldiers’ recovery. McMinn, for example, plays for coach Doug Garner at the University of Texas/Arlington (UTA). UTA is one of seven colleges in the nation that has a wheelchair basketball team. SPC McMinn has a scholarship from UTA that helps him finance his education. He intends to move forward with his accomplishments and his life. He will tell you that UTA and coach Garner are the best and hopes that this sport will be in all the colleges across the country, even though funding is a critical issue in continuing the sport at UTA.

McMinn’s battle buddy, SGT Maston, thought his days of playing basketball were over when he had his leg amputated. He said he wasn’t out of the hospital two weeks before he was visited by wheelchair basketball players who encouraged him to try. He didn’t want to—but he tried and when he went to shoot, he missed. They gave him a good natured ribbing as only a peer can. They told him not to worry about it. As Maston explained, “They told me I played the same before my injury.” That’s all it took. He kept up with practicing wheelchair basketball and realized that he loved it. He said that Warrior Games wheelchair basketball player SPC Juan Soto came forward to him during that time and played a big part in helping him develop his skills. Maston now plays for the San Antonio Spurs wheelchair basketball team.

One can quickly see how supportive and close these players are with each other—on and off the court. One can also see how sports brings them together, teaches them skills, and gives them confidence. The way that life has woven these players together in the past, only tells me the best is yet to come. They are battle buddies, teammates, and friends for life. For the other wounded, ill, and injured across our nation, they are shining examples of how they can move forward with their challenges and brilliantly succeed.
In conclusion, I am sure that these Soldiers will handle any bumps in the road with stride, and I am equally sure they will take the corners on one wheel.

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