By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom
SSG Stefanie Mason, right, and her fraternal twin sister, Jennifer Mason after swimming practice at the Schlessman Natatorium on the Colorado College campus in Colorado Springs, CO.
SSG Stefanie Mason, an AW2 Soldier, will never forget the date April 20, 2010. This was the day her whole life changed.
While deployed to Kabul with the 354th Civil Brigade as a civil affairs specialist, SSG Mason was involved in a vehicular accident. The vehicle was going 50 mph when it hit a cement wall head-on.
SSG Mason, who was in the passenger seat and wearing her seatbelt, went head first into the windshield. She was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and sustained nine head fractures, a torn muscle behind her eye that still causes double vision, and a shattered tibia. She now has two plates in her right leg.
However, these injuries have not stopped SSG Mason. Thirteen months later, she is walking, something her doctors told her she would not be able to do, and vigorously training to compete in the 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter backstroke swimming events in the 2011 Warrior Games.
“The Warrior Games is very exciting and wonderful experience. It’s a privilege to be here, because not many people get to experience this,” SSG Mason said. “I’m honored to be nominated to represent the Army and look forward to competing in the games.”
“I’ve always been competitive, and before the accident, I was a great runner. I actually ran the Army 10-Miler,” she added. “The Warrior Games has given me a chance to compete competitively again.”
During training week, SSG Mason, along with the other Army swimming competitors, are practicing their freestyle and backstroke styles and learning new techniques to use during the competition.
“It is physically demanding and I’m being pushed to my limits, but I’m hoping to do well in the Warrior Games and be a great inspiration,” SSG Mason said. “The games help us to look further and to achieve something.”
Before training week, SSG Mason was swimming several times a week including one-on-one swimming sessions with the Warrior Games Army swimming coach.
“I gained about 20 pounds while I was injured, so I wanted to see if I could get back into swimming to get in shape since I couldn’t run anymore,” said SSG Mason, who was on the swim team in high school. “The Warrior Games swimming coach saw me swimming and told me about the Warrior Games. I thought it sounded nice, so I tried out and made the Army’s team.”
According to Jennifer Mason, Stefanie’s fraternal twin sister and non-medical caregiver, the Warrior Games has been very beneficial for her
SSG Stefanie Mason, a Warrior Games Army swimmer, practicing her backstroke during a training session on Tuesday.
“I think her training for the Warrior Games has helped her get better. It’s great to see her silly, happy-go-lucky personality again,” Jennifer said. “I think her recovery would have taken a lot longer if she didn’t have this to work toward.”
“Growing up we have always been heavily involved in sports,” Jennifer added. “She knows she has an obstacle to overcome, but she doesn’t think of it that way. She is setting her mind toward something, and focusing non-stop. Stefanie has worked very hard to get where she is today. I’m very proud of her. It’s inspiring to see her and the other Soldiers competing.”
SSG Mason credits swimming for motivating her to push through her injuries. It continues to be an inspiration.
“Swimming has been great for me. It has helped me get better physically and mentally because it challenges me,” SSG Mason said. “It teaches me to be tough regardless of disability and makes me focus on my abilities.”
SSG Mason continues to take it one day at a time. She is determined to do her best and make the most of competing in the Warrior Games.