In May 2013, I returned to D.C. feeling elated about the gold medal in shooting I earned at the recent Warrior Games. I walked through the front door of a friend’s house and stopped short at the tell-tale expression of disaster on her face. The night before, a beloved friend, mentor and Marine died by suicide.
Despite his silent suffering from the invisible wounds of PTSD after multiple combat tours, everywhere he went people were drawn to his charisma and positive attitude. Anytime someone complained, he simply said: “That’s terrible! It’s just like the day I found out MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) weren’t organic!”
Following the loss of our friend, we were asked: “If you had a choice to receive a wonderful gift, but you knew it would only last for too short a time, would you still accept it?” We all nodded in our grief, but the feeling that we should have done more still tugs at us a year later. I can’t help but wonder if my mentor and friend would still be here if he had the opportunities that I did from adaptive sports.
Sports and interactions with the military family are incredibly powerful healing tools for wounded, ill and injured active duty and retired veterans. Focusing minute-to-minute on a shooting range, track or cycling course trains our minds to focus on what we can do, what lies ahead, and what we can still achieve. Interacting with other veterans reminds us that we are not alone. And, ultimately, we realize: shot-by-shot or step-by-step, I can put my life back together and thrive in the face of adversity.
We will never return to being the same people we were before wounds, injury or illness, but we become someone new, adapted and more resilient. Because of adaptive sports programs, there are fewer people like my dear friend – veterans who struggle in silence. To me, being a Warrior Games competitor helps you recover faster, both physically and emotionally, by connecting you to a network of support, which can be a protective factor against suicide. The athletes begin looking towards the future – together – and, with time, they triumph over obstacles that once seemed insurmountable.
Every person at Warrior Games is one more veteran with a better quality of life, with a brighter future and a healthier outlook. It is sometimes said that our adaptive sports community is our “chosen family,” and that is a wonderful gift. It’s where we remember what our lives can become even after we face our worst-case scenarios. It’s where we always find the people we love most and our reasons to carry on.
To learn more about the adaptive sports program at Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor, visit: http://navysafeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is just a call or click away. Call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (option 1) or visit www.veteranscrisisline.net.
For more information on the Navy’s ongoing efforts to prevent suicide and support Every Sailor, Every Day, visit www.suicide.navy.mil.