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.”