Breaking Down Barriers through Adaptive Sports

By LuAnn Georgia, WTC Stratcom

Swimmers and non-swimmers alike were able to participate in tubing fun at Fort Belvoir, Va. Wounded Soldier Jordan Knox along with Shelly Neal, spouse of retired Soldier William Neal, enjoy a few laughs on an exhilarating spin around Tompkins Basin.

Swimmers and non-swimmers alike were able to participate in tubing fun at Fort Belvoir, Va. Wounded Soldier Jordan Knox along with Shelly Neal, spouse of retired Soldier William Neal, enjoy a few laughs on an exhilarating spin around Tompkins Basin.

Tompkins Basin, Fort Belvoir, Va., was the site for a group of wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers, Veterans, their Families and Caregivers to gather for some fun in the sun and water activities.

Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation and Team River Runner (both non-profit participants in Community Support Network) joined forces to offer a day of tubing, water skiing, sailing, flat-water kayaking, and camaraderie as part of their adaptive sports initiatives.

Bill Dietrich, Executive Director of ‘Two Top’- a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, runs a summer and winter program which benefits wounded warriors and their Families and was on hand to discuss their program and the effects it has on the participants.

“I love helping people do things they didn’t realize they could do,” Said Mr. Dietrich. “Our program works with all sorts of disabilities.  There aren’t many we can’t help.  Some people are fearful when they first start out, but building trust is essential. It’s key to an individual letting their guard down, breaking down barriers, and allowing themselves to have fun.”

“Getting everyone together and helping them try new things or just seeing them enjoy themselves offers a lot of rewards.” But according to Mr. Dietrich, “It’s not a one man show.  Without our incredible volunteers, these programs wouldn’t be possible.”

During the summer, water sport events are offered at different locations and are usually held a couple of times a month.  The summer programs are only available during the week days, in order to avoid the weekend crowds.  Reservations are required in order to properly plan and staff the events.  According to Dietrich, an ongoing challenge is getting enough volunteers together at one time, as the majority of volunteers still have regular jobs.  He added, “it takes between 8-10 people to properly staff for just one water skier.”

While summer activities are only offered during the week days, the bulk of winter activities are held on weekends. Snow skiing and snowboarding sports, including lessons, are offered at Two Top Mountain in Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Pa.

Dietrich, the 2012 recipient of the Army’s Spirit of Hope award is passionate about his program, the impact and joy it’s brought him as well as those he helps.  All programs are free to wounded, ill, or injured population.  “As long as I can continue to raise the money to fund the program, it will be free for our wounded warriors.”

For information about Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation visit:   www.twotopadaptive.org.  You can find information about Team River Runner at www.TeamRiverRunner.org.

AW2 Veteran Explains Importance of Resources in Civilian Workforce

By Emily D. Anderson, WTC STRATCOM

AW2 Veteran Robert Murafsky shares his transition story publicly to inspire wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans and gain support for the AW2 community. (Photo Credit: Sanchez Santos)

AW2 Veteran Robert Murafsky shares his transition story publicly to inspire wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans and gain support for the AW2 community. (Photo Credit: Sanchez Santos)

Most people consider speaking about themselves a challenge, especially if it is to a crowd of people. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Veteran Robert Murafsky tackled this task in order to provide insights about thriving in today’s workforce as an AW2 Veteran.

“I knew I wanted to be a Soldier since I was a little kid watching the Army commercials on television,” said the Metuchen, N.J. native. “I thought when I joined the military, I would serve 20-plus years, retire, and spend the rest of my life fishing and falling asleep in my reclining chair.”

“However, my reality changed once I was wounded because I had to recover and refocus,” Murafsky added. “If it wasn’t for great programs like the Army Wounded Warrior Program, I wouldn’t have the job I have today working as an Army civilian.”

On August 28, 2006, while performing a search mission during a deployment in Hit, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, an enemy sniper shot Murafsky in the face damaging his right eye.

“A few minutes into the search I felt an awful pain, heard a loud ringing, and everything started to go in slow motion,” Murafsky said. “I remember putting my hand to my face, pulling it back, and seeing lots of blood.”

He was taken to the Forward Operating Base for an initial assessment, then airlifted to a nearby base for surgery. After surgery, he was medically evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Despite a catastrophic injury, Murafsky navigated through the rehabilitation process, transitioned out of the military in May 2007, and qualified for AW2.

AW2 supports Soldiers and their Families throughout their recovery and transition, even into Veteran status. This program, through the local support of AW2 Advocates, strives to foster the Soldier’s independence.

“I told my Advocate I was searching for a job, gave her my resume, and the next thing I know I’m being told to come in for an interview,” he said. “I have no idea what happened between giving her my resume and getting that phone call, but I know she had something to do with it.”

Murafsky currently works as a security specialist for the Department of the Army Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management.

“My first day working as an Army civilian was great because it kind of made me feel like I was back in the Army,” Murafsky said. “This job makes feel like I am helping out the Army.  It may be in a small way, but I consider myself part of the Army still.”

“This job has been great, and I feel like they didn’t hire me to check a box but to actually help a wounded warrior,” he added. “They put me in touch with programs to receive equipment that would help me with my disability and allow me to work in the best conditions possible.”

One program he finds particularly helpful is the DoD Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP).

CAP ensures that people with disabilities and wounded servicemembers have equal access to the information environment and opportunities in the Department of Defense and throughout the federal government.

“We provide the equipment to allow people like Robert equal access to everything,” said Kameelah Montgomery, acquisition team leader of CAP. “There’s technology out there for these Soldiers and Veterans.”

Some examples of technology available for those who are blind or have low vision include Braille displays and translators, large print keyboards, or a compact and portable version of a closed-circuit television.

“They can receive it free of charge while in uniform,” she added.  “It’s theirs to keep forever because we want them to go out and be successful.”

To learn more about how to hire a Veteran at your organization, including an online toolkit and educational video for hiring managers, visit the Warrior Transition Command at www.WTC.army.mil/employers or for information about CAP, visit http://www.cap.mil.

Honoring a Hero

Heat player Mike Miller congratulates SPC Romero while family looks on.

Heat player Mike Miller congratulates SPC Romero while family looks on.

By:  LuAnn Georgia, WTC STRATCOM with contributions from AW2 Advocate Julio Alicea
Specialist Eddie Romero is a native of Hialeah, Florida and a die-hard fan of the Miami Heat.  Romero’s dream came true when he was recently honored on the court by the Home Strong program at Game one of the 2013 Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Home Strong program, which was established by the Miami Heat in 2006, is an ongoing program that pays tribute to the men and women in uniform. It was developed by the Heat team and Coach Pat Riley to assist with the unmet needs of military personnel and their families who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and whom reside in South Florida.

Romero enjoys the chance to wear a Miami Heat Championship Ring.

Romero enjoys the chance to wear a Miami Heat Championship Ring.

The tribute to honor Specialist Romero was prompted when news got out about his passion for the Florida NBA team, the Miami Heat.  Romero, who joined the Florida Army National Guard right out of high school, was deployed to Kuwait in 2010 where he served as a machine gunner for supply convoys into Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  In 2012, while deployed to Germany, he suffered what was thought to be a knee injury but after returning home to Florida for treatment, was informed that he was suffering from Stage four Osteosarcoma, an advanced bone cancer.   Romero underwent surgery for the cancer but was told that it had spread to his lungs and there was a 15 percent chance of survival.

These days Romero is undergoing outpatient treatment at the Miami Veterans Administration Hospital and the University of Miami, Sylvester Cancer Center.  The treatment is reported to be going well and in June, Romero and his family were given hope when they received the good news that the cancer has gone dormant.

In addition to receiving the welcomed news about his health, Romero’s fiancée recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy.  As part of his tribute to the team and player he idolizes, the Romero’s named their newborn son “James” after legendary Heat player Lebron James.

While the future is uncertain, based on his examples, Baby James will grow up with an understanding of the true meaning of being a “winner”. Congratulations to the new parents and may your future be filled with many blessings.

 

Behind the Scenes with Freedom Service Dogs

Trained “rescue dogs” give hope and help to those with life altering  disabilities. Freedom Service Dogs is a member of the WTC Community Support Network.

Trained “rescue dogs” give hope and help to those with life altering disabilities. Freedom Service Dogs is a member of the WTC Community Support Network. Photo provided by: Freedom Service Dogs Credit for additional information in article should be: Additional content provided by Stacey Candella, Freedom Service Dogs.

By:  LuAnn Georgia, WTC STRATCOM
Recently, while at the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, I had the privilege of talking with Walter Ernst of Freedom Service Dogs (FSD), a member of the WTC Community Support Network.  FSD is one of many Community Support Network organizations connecting wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers and Veterans with service dogs.

Ernst, a retired Air Force pilot, has been serving on the FSD board of directors since 2010.  He agreed to answer some questions about FSD, how they operate and the clients they serve.  He spoke openly and passionately about how FSD is making a difference in the lives of those with disabilities.

Q.  How did FSD get started?

A.  FSD is a Denver-based non-profit, Assistance Dogs International (ADI) certified organization that provides certified service dogs to clients at no charge.  It was founded in 1987 by a husband and wife team, Michael and PJ Roche.  Mike, a paramedic, was severely injured during an ambulance run, rendering him a quadriplegic.  As a canine obedience trainer, his wife recognized how an assistance dog would enable Mike to regain his independence and enhance his mobility.  Inspired by their own success with a trained dog, the Roches founded FSD to offer increased independence to others with disabilities.

Q.  Tell me how FSD gets their dogs.

A.  We get our dogs from shelters in several of the western states.  The dog’s ages vary between one-to-two years, weigh between 50-90 lbs and are typically mixed breeds because their life span is longer.  We have a wide variety of mixed breeds in training but we prefer dogs that are a Retriever mix because they’re smart.

Q.  What is the screening and training process for dogs in your program? 

A.  When we first get a dog, we keep it isolated from other new dogs, to do a medical evaluation and personality assessment.  If the dog passes the initial evaluation, they go into a four-level training program which lasts 7-12 months.  They start by learning basic commands and progress on to advanced training and custom tasks.  On weekends while in training, we foster the dogs out to approved, volunteer homes so we can keep them socialized.

Our dogs are trained to assist people with different types of mobility challenges such as spinal cord injuries, stroke victims, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis, as well post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and children with autism and Down syndrome.

Once a person is approved for a dog there’s a 12 – 18 month lead time from the initial request to when they actually receive their companion.  About 40 percent of those on our wait list are servicemembers.

Q.  How many dogs do you process throughout a year?

A.  About one out of every three dogs makes it through our program at an average cost to FSD of $25,000 per dog.  We rescue over 100 dogs each year and at any given time, we have between 35-45 dogs in training at our campus in Englewood.  Those that don’t make it through the program are put up for adoption. We don’t euthanize any of our animals.

Q.  How long are owners allowed to keep their dogs?

A.  Our clients keep their dogs for the lifetime of the animal, but when the dog becomes too old to perform tasks, it is retired and we provide a ‘successor’ dog for that client.

Q.  How do you fund your program?

A.  Our funding comes from private donations so there is an ongoing concern about how are we going to continue to operate?  Creating awareness is vital to our existence and because we don’t charge our clients, we are always looking for sponsors and ways to raise money to offset our costs.

FSD has a full time training staff, but one way they have found to control costs is to rely on dependable volunteers and the Colorado Prison Trained K9 Companion Program (PTKCP) to help in the initial stages of training the dogs.  In addition, once a dog is matched with a client, FSD has a hands-on program known as “Train the Trainer”.  This program entails a 2 ½ week training course to teach the client or owner how to interact with and continue to train their dog once they have taken them home.

Q.  What is the most frustrating part of being involved with a non-profit such as yours?

A. The bureaucracy, lack of communication and funding can make things tough.

Q.  What do you find to be the most rewarding part of this program?

A.  The graduation ceremony.  We have three-to-four ceremonies a year to celebrate the successful placement of dogs with their owners.  To see the bond they share can be very emotional.

Thank you to Mr. Ernst and Freedom Service Dogs for providing some insight into their program.  If you would like more information about Freedom Service Dogs please visit their website at www.freedomservicedogs.org.

Disclaimer:  Refer to Army Directive 2013-01 for information and guidelines on “Service” and “Therapy” dogs. 

Warrior Games 2013 Recap

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – This still image from the video cameras at the 4x100 relay finish line at U.S. Air Force Academy shows SGT Ryan McIntosh from Fort Sam Houston WTB winning by 1/200th of a second. After losing his right leg below the knee, McIntosh serves as an adaptive sports NCO at Fort Sam Houston WTB, where he inspires other WTU Soldiers to participate in adaptive reconditioning activities.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – This still image from the video cameras at the 4×100 relay finish line at U.S. Air Force Academy shows SGT Ryan McIntosh from Fort Sam Houston WTB winning by 1/200th of a second. After losing his right leg below the knee, McIntosh serves as an adaptive sports NCO at Fort Sam Houston WTB, where he inspires other WTU Soldiers to participate in adaptive reconditioning activities.

By BG David J. Bishop
Warrior Games 2013 is in the history books, and what a great week of competition it was for our warriors. Team Army came close to the overall goal of winning the Chairman’s Cup with their resilience, physical strength, athletic prowess and sportsmanship. Each of our Soldier-athletes inspired everyone in attendance.

For this year’s Warrior Games, our goals included:
1)    Maximizing the opportunity to introduce as many wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers to adaptive reconditioning as possible. One way we accomplished this was by hosting 17 training and selection clinics throughout the year, compared to five for 2012. At these clinics, Soldiers received training in the flagship sports for the Warrior Games. Each of the 325 Soldiers who applied trained in at least three events, and this year, world class Olympic and Paralympic coaches worked with our athletes.
2)    Inspiring as many wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers as possible to recognize their full potential and focus on more than just their injuries. Wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers throughout the WCTP saw our Army athletes excel at the competition. Our diverse Army team consisted of 29 Soldiers and 21 Veterans, with 22 combat wounded and 7 with behavioral health conditions. The resilience, strength and determination of these Soldier- athletes serve as a symbol of hope for many overcoming obstacles regardless of their injury or illness.
3)    Fielding a great team to represent the Army in competition and enhance Army esprit de corps. This year, with more selection and training camps, we ensured a strong Army team capable of competing with the best athletes from all of the services. Our Army wheelchair basketball team dominated the court and took home the Gold for the third year in a row, and they’re just one example of the competitive outcomes our team achieved throughout the week.
4)    Providing hope to every newly-wounded Soldier who returns from Afghanistan, so they can realize that their injuries are not life-ending. When Soldiers see our Army athletes or others like them, they recognize the potential for a bright and fulfilling future.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The members of the 2013 U.S. Army Warrior Games team pose with their medals, coaches and Senior Army Leaders during the closing ceremonies at the U.S. Air Force Academy. (Photo by U.S. Army)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The members of the 2013 U.S. Army Warrior Games team pose with their medals, coaches and Senior Army Leaders during the closing ceremonies at the U.S. Air Force Academy. (Photo by U.S. Army)

In a valiant effort to close the medal gap with the Marine Corps team, Team Army beat its 2012 medal count by 18 (81 medals this year compared to 63 in 2012).  I am confident that Team Army’s example will motivate each of the other services to up their game in the future.  With continued emphasis in the value of adaptive reconditioning and adaptive sports across the Warrior Care and Transition Program, including the exceptional training and selection camps the Army conducted over the past year, I also believe that Team Army athletes will continue to improve and that the Chairman’s Cup will be in Army hands in 2014.

Putting aside for a moment the obvious excitement that athletic competition provides, I would like to reflect on the much larger picture of what adaptive reconditioning and resilience training does for wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers.  Losing limbs, being severely burned, suffering a traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress – as life changing as these events undoubtedly can be, one thing stands out: the Army’s determination to honor its sacred commitment to take care of its men and women in uniform.  Often, however, the state-of-the-art medical innovations that help save lives and help put Soldiers back together are not enough when it comes to coming to grips with the profound changes these injuries and illnesses mean for their lives.

At Warrior Games, in the clinics leading up to Warrior Games, and in talking with Warrior Transition Unit Commanders and Soldiers, I often hear a frequent and recurring theme: participating in adaptive reconditioning activities, athletics, and the life-coaching experiences of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program gives Soldiers the nudge they need to get back into living. These activities play a vital role in allowing Soldiers to unleash their unlimited potential and focus on something more than their injuries.

BETHESDA, Md. – Army 1st Lt. Nathan Rimpf, injured by an improvised explosive device during combat patrol in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan on July 8, 2012, works out in the Military Advanced Training Center (MATC) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in May 2013. Soldiers like Rimpf help inspire newly wounded Soldiers to advance their recovery and quality of life through sports and adaptive reconditioning activities.

BETHESDA, Md. – Army 1st Lt. Nathan Rimpf, injured by an improvised explosive device during combat patrol in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan on July 8, 2012, works out in the Military Advanced Training Center (MATC) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in May 2013. Soldiers like Rimpf help inspire newly wounded Soldiers to advance their recovery and quality of life through sports and adaptive reconditioning activities.

I urge everyone to get to know the Soldiers and Families that make up the Warrior Transition Units and the Army Wounded Warrior Program, and especially these great Warrior Games competitors.  I can almost guarantee that you will come away from the experience uplifted yourself, just from the opportunity to let the infectious enthusiasm of these brave men and women rub off on you.  I know I am a better person for the experience, and I am sure you will be as well.

Weekly Recap:

  • Wheelchair basketball – Team Army took home the Gold for the third year in a row
  • Shooting – Team Army nearly tripled last year’s medal count (3 medals lasT year, 8 this year)
  • Sitting volleyball – After a hard-fought effort against the Marine Corps, Team Army won the Silver medal
  • Track and field –  Team Army won 33 medals, including a thrilling come-from-behind effort to win Gold in the 4×100 relay
  • Archery – Team Army dominated, winning 6 of 8 possible medals
  • Cycling – Team Army won 9 medals overall – with our female athletes sweeping  the medal stand
  • Swimming– With the Warrior Transition Command’s LTC Danny Dudek leading the way with 4 Gold and 1 Silver medal, Team Army came away with a total of 13 Gold, 8 Silver, and 2 Bronze medals

Total – MEDAL COUNT: 264 medals

  • Army = 81: Gold (33), Silver (26), Bronze (22)
  • Marines = 92: Gold (34), Silver (33) Bronze (25)
  • Navy/Coast Guard = 23: Gold (8), Silver (5) Bronze (10)
  • Air Force = 30: Gold (3), Silver (10), Bronze (17)
  • SOCOM = 16: Gold (5), Silver (6), Bronze (5)
  • U.K. = 22: Gold (5), Silver (8), Bronze (9)

Total Medal Count – 264

“Paying It Forward”

We take care of all of our Soldiers – wounded, ill or injured.  Veteran Charles Armstead takes time out from Warrior Games training schedule to discuss the importance of the Army adaptive reconditioning program.  He credits the program with helping transform his life, attitude, and priorities. He is competing in cycling, wheelchair basketball, and sitting volleyball. Armstead resides in Needville, Texas. Photograph by Christian Turner

We take care of all of our Soldiers – wounded, ill or injured.
Veteran Charles Armstead takes time out from Warrior Games training schedule to discuss the importance of the Army adaptive reconditioning program. He credits the program with helping transform his life, attitude, and priorities. He is competing in cycling, wheelchair basketball, and sitting volleyball. Armstead resides in Needville, Texas. Photograph by Christian Turner

Christian Turner, Guest Blogger
“Paying it forward” has become the credo for Sgt. 1st Class Charles Armstead.  While this year will be Armstead’s first at the Warrior Games, he is already preparing to win a victory for the Army team. Things weren’t always as hopeful. In May 2009, the armor crewman was struck in the abdomen by an insurgent bullet at close range while deployed to Iraq. The round shattered his right hip and severed his spine, leaving him with permanent nerve damage in his left leg and the amputation of his right leg at the hip.

Like many wounded warriors competing in this week’s games, the road to recovery for this Army Veteran is ongoing. “I spent two or three months feeling sorry for myself,” he confessed, “then I decided to do something.”  It was the visit of a Vietnam Veteran, who shared the same injuries as Armstead, that inspired him to take action. Soon, the sergeant found himself encouraging new arrivals at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, reminding the recently injured Soldiers, “there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

While at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Armstead was introduced to adaptive reconditioning through the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU). It was there that Armstead began developing a passion for hand cycling and wheelchair basketball. These two sports provided an opportunity for him to gain the cardio exercise he so desperately missed after sustaining his injuries. In his words, “the joy of cycling came naturally, it wasn’t a forced effort.”  This joy proved contagious, with Armstead taking his love of basketball and cycling to the Warrior Games. “I’m real competitive,” says a smiling Armstead.

“Warrior Games is a chance to again compete for the Army.” This sentiment expressed by Armstead is one shared by many Soldiers here.  It’s a chance to demonstrate to the community that a wounded warrior’s mission is ongoing. Sometimes, people who are unfamiliar with assisting wounded Soldiers can mean well, offering so much help that it can serve as a hindrance to recovery. The Veteran recounts, “Often, I have to tell people ‘No’ when they offer tohelp me do simple tasks. I try to never be rude, but I have to attempt things on my own if I am to be the independent person I need to be.”

The Veteran is extremely grateful for the outreach provided by the WTU and organizations such as Heroes on the Water. “Its nice to know there are still some good people in the world who value what Soldiers do on a daily basis,”said an emotional Armstead. Through his injuries and events like the Warrior Games, Armstead has strengthened his resolve and perspective towards recovery. “I know everything happens for a reason,” he said , “and without my injury I would have never met people just like me who have become the strongest circle of friends in my life.”

Armstead looks forward to competing in Wheelchair Basketball for the Army, but the greater excitement lies in seeing his family, who are joining him for the competition.   “My family has provided the greatest encouragement to me during this whole process. And, through social media, they’ve been able to cheer me on the whole way. I think they’re even more excited than I am.”

It All Started With a Two Day Trip and a Borrowed Mountain Bike

By:  LuAnn Georgia, Warrior Transition Command 

Veteran Ashley Crandall shares how adaptive reconditioning has helped her deal with injuries sustained while on active duty in the Army.  Crandall, from Salt Lake City, Utah, has found a sense of purpose working with other disabled Soldiers and Veterans and encourages them to get active. This year at Warrior Games, she is competing in swimming and cycling.   Photograph by:  Christian Turner

Veteran Ashley Crandall shares how adaptive reconditioning has helped her deal with injuries sustained while on active duty in the Army. Crandall, from Salt Lake City, Utah, has found a sense of purpose working with other disabled Soldiers and Veterans and encourages them to get active. This year at Warrior Games, she is competing in swimming and cycling. Photograph by: Christian Turner

Ashley Crandall never questioned her decision to join the Army.  She joined under delayed enlistment at 16, and was on active duty after she turned 17. Crandall served for over ten years before retiring for medical reasons.

During her time in the Army Crandall worked as a helicopter mechanic, serving three combat tours in Iraq,  and three weeks before she was supposed to return home from her third deployment she realized that “something was wrong, something had changed inside”.  She noted that in addition to dealing with the trauma of combat, she was the survivor of two separate incidences of sexual assault.  All of the trauma caught up with her and she was diagnosed with PTSD and hospitalized on Christmas day.  On New Year ’s Day she was medevaced to Walter Reed where she spent the next three years recovering and rehabilitating.

These days Crandall spends much of her time training, cycling and working with other Soldiers and Veterans to help with their recovery.  When ask about how she became interested in cycling, she said “while at Walter Reed a friend talked me into doing a bike ride with the organization Face of America”. Although she hadn’t been on a bike in over 15 years, she borrowed a mountain bike and went on to complete the two-day, 110 mile ride. The same friend, who talked Crandall into her first ride, convinced her to get involved with the organization Ride 2 Recovery (R2R). She shared that R2R challenges offered more intense rides ranging from 300-500 miles, lasting up to six days and that she has completed 20 of these challenges since 2009.

Crandall goes on to say “Ride 2 Recovery saved my life”. She adds that cycling serves more than one purpose in her life “not only does it help me physically, it also acts as therapy. It’s not stressful and you have people that you ride next to who you can talk with but when you start pedaling all the stress and frustration goes into the pavement.” She added that cycling with R2R is different because “it’s a ride, not a race and no one rides faster than the slowest rider. The slowest rider sets the pace.”

When ask about her feelings towards Warrior Games Ashley said “my original goal was just to get here but once I made the team my goals started to change”. Crandall hopes to medal but adds “the competition is a little intimidating. It’s my first race ever”. She goes on to say that she likes being around the other athletes because “you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. No one is asking questions because they already know.”

Training for Crandall includes working with a private coach at least four days a week for up to two hours a day. Outside of training and competing at Warrior Games, she is also working to establish a daily cycling program at the Philadelphia Veterans Administration. The goal is to get other disabled Veterans engaged in their own recovery.

Although Crandall prefers to work “behind the scenes” she knows she has to share her story in order to help herself as well as others in the recovery and rehabilitation process. Her greatest reward comes from “helping others grow and gain confidence”.

Soldiers First, Athletes Second

Fort Carson, Colo  – U.S. Army Soldiers train during track and field practice May 2013 in preparation for the 2013 Warrior Games. Since 2010 the Warrior Games have brought together wounded, ill or injured service members to compete. This year, the Warrior Games will include wounded warriors from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt Yves-Marie Daley, 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Fort Carson, Colo – U.S. Army Soldiers train during track and field practice May 2013 in preparation for the 2013 Warrior Games. Since 2010 the Warrior Games have brought together wounded, ill or injured service members to compete. This year, the Warrior Games will include wounded warriors from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt Yves-Marie Daley, 210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Warrior Transition Command Chaplain, Maj. Ken Godwin
The night before the opening ceremony at the 2013 Warrior Games I had the opportunity to speak to the Army team to provide some spiritual insight and perhaps motivate the athletes to great heights in this year’s competition. What to say? It was not my job to give a typical sports “pep talk.” It was my job as I understand it to remind these warriors and athletes of the importance of their whole person. That they are more than just bodies who can perform great feats on the athletic field or court.

I began by focusing these competitors on the Soldier side of things. After all, they are Soldiers first. The reason they are involved in this competition in the first place is because they are either active duty Soldiers or Army Veterans. I reminded them of a quote from General George Marshal that the Soldier’s spirit and soul is the thing that sustains him. I wanted these Soldiers to know that it’s not just their chaplain reminding them of the importance of their spirits when it comes to their soldierly duties. I also think it’s important that they see that spirituality and the Soldier is a very real part of our history as an Army.

The second part of my talk focused on athletics and spirituality. For a great historical example of religion and sports I offered them a quote from 1924 Scottish gold medal runner Eric Liddel. Liddel was the son of Christian missionaries whose faith was a huge part of his success as a runner and who was immortalized in the movie Chariots of Fire. Liddel is attributed as saying “God made me for a purpose but He also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.” I reminded these warrior athletes that although they have individual purposes in life as parents, Soldiers,  and friends — for this week and this week alone, their God given purpose is to compete at their best. When they do that, God is pleased.

As I write this post we are only two days into the competition. How it shakes out remains to be seen. But I look forward to seeing how well our Army Warrior Games team does and whether they take the Chairman’s Cup from the Marines. I’m hoping for victory on the field of competition as are they. But most of all I hope that these Soldiers will see their purpose fulfilled this week. I’m praying that they come to understand that God will be pleased win or lose if they find their purpose in Him.

Q&A with Warrior Games Bronze Medalist, Elizabeth Wasil

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Spc. Elizabeth Wasil, swimmer, World Class Athlete Program, practices her wheelchair race events for the Warrior Games May 7, 2013 at Carson Middle School, Fort Carson. Wasil will be competing in hand-cycling, wheelchair racing, shot-put, and discus events. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Smith, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Spc. Elizabeth Wasil, swimmer, World Class Athlete Program, practices her wheelchair race events for the Warrior Games May 7, 2013 at Carson Middle School, Fort Carson. Wasil will be competing in hand-cycling, wheelchair racing, shot-put, and discus events.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Smith, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

By Alli Kartachak, WTC Stratcom
If anyone is a testament to the power of adaptive reconditioning on the healing process, it is Elizabeth Wasil. As a combat medic on assignment in Afghanistan in 2010, she sustained bilateral hip injuries, impeding her ability to walk, and underwent three surgeries to restructure her hips in order to regain mobility.

Today, the specialist from Prescott Valley, Arizona is defying the odds. Her participation in adaptive reconditioning activities and the 2012 Warrior Games propelled her military and athletic career and brought her from ‘injured Soldier’ to the first Paralympic swimmer in the U.S. World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).

This year, she continues to shine at the 2013 Warrior Games, stealing the bronze for women’s hand cycling for the Army on May 13 at the U.S. Air Force Academy. She is also slated to compete in the track and field events as an Army athlete at this year’s competition.

I took some time with the bronze medalist after her hand cycling win to ask her a few questions:

Q: What does being a part of Warrior Games mean to you?

A: It means that I get to represent the Army and participate with some of the world’s finest athletes and surround myself with humble heroes.

Q: How did adaptive reconditioning help you in your transition/ road to recovery?

A: Adaptive reconditioning led me to the Warrior Games. It took me from someone who was injured into an athlete in the WCTP. It launched my career and gave me a chance to compete with some of the best athletes out there.

Q: What would you say to other wounded, ill or injured Soldiers about the value of adaptive reconditioning?

A: I would say that it has changed my life. I would tell wounded, ill or injured athletes to just try it – give adaptive reconditioning a chance and see what it can do for you.

Q: As a member of the WCTP do you have your sights set on Rio for the 2016 Paralympic Games?

A: I’m hopeful! It is a possibility.

Q: Anything else that you would like to add?

A: Thank you to Army leadership – especially to MSG Jongema. He’s been a true leader and has poured his heart out into this competition. I don’t think he can ever get the recognition he deserves for all that he has done.

Thank you Spc. Wasil for your inspirational messages – you are a symbol of hope for so many wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.

WARRIOR GAMES MEDAL UPDATE: After this interview took place, Spc. Wasil has won gold in the Women’s Track 1500M Wheelchair event. See the full list of Warrior Games results at http://www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/Military/Warrior-Games-presented-by-Deloitte/Competition-Results.aspx.

Veteran Charles “Chuck” Allen Finds Inspiration and Support at the Warrior Games

(From Left) Retired Army Spc. Juan Soto, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, retired Army Sgt. Charles (Chuck) Allen, formerly stationed at Fort Hood, Tx., and retired Army veteran Spc. Anthony Pone, scrimmage during a wheelchair basketball practice at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Co., on 24 April, 2012. These athletes are joined by dozens of other wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Army veterans selected to compete in the Warrior Games beginning April 30, 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Kyle Wagoner, 43rd Public Affair Detachment)

(From Left) Retired Army Spc. Juan Soto, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, retired Army Sgt. Charles (Chuck) Allen, formerly stationed at Fort Hood, Tx., and retired Army veteran Spc. Anthony Pone, scrimmage during a wheelchair basketball practice at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Co., on 24 April, 2012. These athletes are joined by dozens of other wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Army veterans selected to compete in the Warrior Games beginning April 30, 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Kyle Wagoner, 43rd Public Affair Detachment)

By, Cait McCarrie WTC Stratcom
The 2013 Warrior Games athletes haven’t wasted any time getting into the warrior mindset. Back to back practice schedules, weight training and team bonding activities showcase but the athletes’ hard work and dedication.  The Warrior Games give the world an opportunity to see how adaptive sports and reconditioning play a role in Soldier recovery and transition. They also showcase the importance of integrating physical activity into wounded, ill, or injured Soldier’s recovery and transition process.  The Warrior Games is just one example of how competitive sports facilitate the recovery process. One athlete who knows this all too well is Veteran Charles Allen of the Army wheelchair basketball team.

Two-time Warrior Games medal winner, Allen, will compete in field and wheelchair basketball at this year’s competition. In 2012, Allen took home the gold in wheelchair basketball and silver in sitting discus. Allen is ready to bring home the gold again this year, and brings his all to team practice. Allen like the other athletes understands that training is a year-long endeavor, and as a player for the Movin’ Mavs wheelchair basketball team, he practices what he preaches.

Allen was injured during a training exercise at Fort Hood, Texas and as a result was paralyzed from the waist down. Having been an athlete growing up, Allen saw an opportunity to get involved in a new sport.  Allen was inspired by other wounded Soldiers and Veterans who were using adaptive sports in their recovery. They sparked his interest in wheelchair basketball.  The wheelchair basketball players at the VA in Dallas inspired him to get on the court and give the sport a shot. Ever since, Allen has been a devoted player. It’s been nearly ten years since Allen started playing wheelchair basketball, and even though he wasn’t a basketball player before his injury, he’s a natural on the court and enjoys the comradery and support he gets from his teammates.

Team sports like wheelchair basketball offer a unique opportunity to integrate not only physical activity into one’s recovery but a chance to utilize communication and personal skills that Soldiers and Veterans learn while in the military. When asked what he enjoys most about playing wheelchair basketball Allen credits his teammates, “I like the team aspect of the sport and the strenuous activity that it puts us through.”

Allen will be competing in field on May 14th from 0800-1600 MDT (1000-1800 EDT) at the United States Air Force Academy and wheelchair basketball throughout the week. Watch the wheelchair basketball finals live on ESPN on Wednesday, May 15th.

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