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Veterans Win Three Medals in Lyon

Photo of Veteran Scot Severn

- Lyon, France

After U.S. Army Sergeant Rob Brown led the United States into the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France as the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, Team USA went to work on the track and in the field, winning an unprecedented 52 medals. Military Veterans earned three of those medals.

U.S. Army Veteran Scot Severn of Caro, Mich. won a silver medal in the men's shot put F52/53 with a season's best 8.26 meters to secure a spot on the podium on the fourth day of competition in Lyon, just a few weeks shy of the 24th anniversary of his accident while serving with the U.S. Army Reserves at Camp Grayling, Mich.

On Aug. 14, 1989, Severn was directly struck by lightning, resulting in incomplete quadriplegia. A year after discovering wheelchair sports, he competed in the 2004 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which laid the groundwork for his career with U.S. Paralympics.

"My only regret about this world championships is that it is at the same time as the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which I love being at," Severn said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to make it next year. I've missed them two years in a row and I really miss them."

On the fifth day of competition, U.S. Army Veteran Ce-Ce Mazyck of Columbia, S.C. claimed the bronze medal the following day in the women's javelin F57/58 with a throw of 19.83, only two hundredths from a silver medal.

"It felt awesome to find out I was on the podium," Mazyck said. "Thank you Jesus. I made it on the podium. It felt awesome to do this and to represent Team USA. I came here to do it and I did it."

Mazyck was injured in November 2003, just prior to Thanksgiving, while doing a parachute jump with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. A competitor at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, she did not medal in her field events.

"I felt really, really good today, going out there and competing for Team USA," Mazyck said after winning her medal in Lyon. "Just getting on the podium was the main thing for me because in London, I kind of missed the mark a little bit. This was a chance for me to redeem myself. I'm so blessed to be on the podium."

U.S. Army Veteran Scott Winkler of Pittsburg, Pa., added a bronze medal to the Team USA tally on Day 8. On Saturday, he won the bronze medal in the men's shot put F54/55 by throwing 10.82 meters in his final attempt of the competition.

“I used to fight for my country, now I win for it,” Winkler said.

While serving in Iraq in 2003 with the 549th Military Police Company out of Fort Stewart, Ga., Winkler fell from a truck and severely injured his spinal cord, resulting in paralysis from the chest down. He joined the U.S. Army a few years after high school, becoming a service technician.

In 2006, he was introduced to track and field at a U.S. Paralympics Military Sports Camp. Winkler competed at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games two years later and also represented Team USA at the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships and the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, which were July 19-28, included more than 1,100 athletes from almost 100 countries competing at the Stadium of Parilly. Among the 76 members of Team USA, 10 Veterans and two active duty service members who represent four military branches.

Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, U.S. Paralympics and its partners provide thousands of opportunities for Veterans and service members with physical disabilities to compete in Paralympic sport at the recreational, intermediate and elite levels.

A look at the performances of U.S. military athletes in Lyon:

Sergeant Rob Brown (Chula Vista, Calif.), U.S. Army
Brown, the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, competed in the men’s 400 meter T43/44 race, finishing fourth in the second semifinal with a time of 58.21. He did not qualify for the final. On Sept. 24, 2006, Sgt. Brown was injured in firefight with insurgents in Iraq. He suffered multiple gunshots to the hip, one of which cut his sciatic nerve, leaving the lower half of his right leg without sensory or motor functions. His right leg was amputated below the knee in 2008.

Kate Callahan (San Antonio, Texas), U.S. Air Force Veteran
Kate Callahan threw 9.12m in her fifth of six attempts to finish fifth in the women's shot put F55/56/57 on July 21. On July 27, she finished sixth in the women's discus F57/58. Her final throw of the event was her best, reaching 26.02m.

In 1983, she enlisted in the Air Force. After attending nursing school, she continued her service with the Army as a combat medic and flight nurse. In 2000, Callahan paralyzed from the waist down because of complications from surgery.

Robbie Gaupp (Gatesville, Texas), U.S. Army Veteran
Guapp finished eighth in the men's triple jump T45/46/47 with a mark of 11.33m. Before making his debut with the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field Team, Guapp competed at the 2012 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, a competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and Veterans. Guapp joined the Army in 2003, right out of high school. While supporting Operation Jumpstart, he shattered his right shoulder assisting border patrol units along the Texas-Mexico border, and lost his range of motion. He was medically retired in Jan. 2010.

Steven Hancock (Pueblo, Colo.), U.S. Navy Veteran
Steven Hancock finished 13th in the men's discus F54/55/56 with a personal best 28.17m on July 21. In the men's shot put F54/55 on July 27, Hancock placed 15th with a throw of 8.27m. A competitor at the 2013 Warrior Games, Hancock made his debut with Team USA in Lyon. Hancock was paralyzed during his deployment to Bahrain. His cable snapped during repelling training and he fell five stories.

Ce-Ce Mazyck (Columbia, S.C.), U.S. Army Veteran
Mazyck claimed the bronze medal in the women's javelin F57/58.

Jose Nieves (Gurabo, Puerto Rico), U.S. Army Veteran
On July 25, Nieves finished 13th in the men's javelin throw F54/55/56. While serving in 1997, Nieves suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him.

Luis Puertas (Orlando, Fla.), U.S. Army Veteran
Puertas competed in one event in Lyon, the men’s 200m T42 competition. He finished fifth in the second semifinal but did not advance to the final. On Sept. 20, 2006, Puertas was serving with the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad when his convoy was hit by an explosively formed penetrator (EFP), trapping him beneath the 400 pound armored door of his Humvee. A bilateral above the knee amputee, Puertas was the Army torchbearer at the 2013 Warrior Games.

Max Rohn (Longmont, Colo.), U.S. Navy Veteran
In the men's shot put F44, U.S. Navy Veteran Max Rohn (Longmont, Colo.) finished 11th with a throw of 11.24m. His best throw came on his first attempt of the competition. In Jan. 2009, he was serving with a Marine police transition team in Iraq when his Humvee was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. After two-and-a-half years and 14 surgeries on his right leg, his right leg was amputated below the knee. Rohn competed at the Warrior Games.

Scot Severn (Caro, Mich.), U.S. Army Veteran
Before winning the silver medal in the shot put, Severn placed seventh in the men's discus F51/52/53 with a throw of 20.44m, which came on his fourth attempt. He also finished seventh in the men's javelin F52/53 on July 26 with a season's best 16.91.

Chief Petty Officer Casey Tibbs (San Antonio, Texas), U.S. Navy Veteran
In the men's long jump F44, Chief Petty Officer Casey Tibbs, who became the first active duty service member to represent the United States in a Paralympic Games in 2004, narrowly missed the podium in Lyon. In his lone event of the IPC Athletics World Championships, he finished fourth with a jump of 6.45m.

Stephanie Timmer (Naperville, Ill.), U.S. Marines Corps Veteran
Stephanie Timmer, who began losing her sight in 1996 due to a progressive eye disease known as macular degeneration, finished eighth in the women's discus F11/12. She had a season's best throw of 27.68 meters, which came on her fifth attempt.

Scott Winkler (Pittsburgh, Pa.), U.S. Army Veteran
The lone event of the competition for Winkler was the men’s shot put F54/55, where he earned a bronze medal.

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Team USA Wins Two Medals on Day 5 in Lyon, France

July 24, 2013

LYON, France - Elexis Gillette won a silver medal and U.S. Army Veteran Ce-Ce Mazyck added a bronze medal to give United States two medals today at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships today in Lyon, France.

On his last attempt, Gillette (Raleigh, N.C.) went from nearly last place in the men's triple jump F11 to second with an American record jump of 12.66m. He has a string of silver medals in his events but has never won gold at the Paralympic Games or world championships.

"It's bittersweet I guess because I'm stuck right there at silver but triple is my lesser of the jumping events," said Gillette. "For today, I was losing terribly until the last one so to be able to get a good jump at the end, that was cool. I'm happy about it."

He scratched the first jump. His second jump was 11.62 with the third attempt at 11.58. Gillette scratched the fourth jump before handing in a 12.07, which still kept him at the bottom of the standings.

"That was close," Gillette said.

Mazyck (Columbia, S.C.) claimed the bronze medal in the women's javelin F57/58 with a throw of 19.83, only two hundredths from a silver medal.

"I felt really, really good today, going out there and competing for Team USA," Mazyck said. "Just getting on the podium was the main thing for me because in London, I kind of missed the mark a little bit. This was a chance for me to redeem myself. I'm so blessed to be on the podium."

Mazyck was injured in November 2003, just prior to Thanksgiving, while doing a parachute jump with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

"It felt awesome to find out I was on the podium," Mazyck said. "Thank you Jesus. I made it on the podium. It felt awesome to do this and to represent Team USA. I came here to do it and I did it."

The first race of the day looked to produce a world title for Kerri Morgan (St. Louis, Mo.) and a bronze medal for Cassie Mitchell (Atlanta, Ga.) but it will be reran Thursday. With 200m remaining in the women's 800m T52, Belgium's Marieke Vervoort and Canada's Michelle Stilwell collided, causing the Belgian to tumble.

Morgan managed to get passed the wreckage and take advantage of the pile up to cross the line first with Mitchell third, but the result will not stand as Vervoort - who won Paralympic 100m T52 gold ahead of Stilwell in London - was deemed to have cut across the Canadian. Vervoort was later disqualified.

In the men's long jump F44, Chief Petty Officer Casey Tibbs (San Antonio, Texas), who became the first active duty service member to represent the United States in a Paralympic Games in 2004, narrowly missed the podium, finishing fourth with a jump of 6.45m. Hurie Johnson (Detroit, Mich.) was fifth with 6.28 while Paul Peterson (Charlotte, N.C.) took sixth with 6.14.

Josh George (Herndon, Va.) led after 2000m of the men's 5000m T54 race but finished fourth overall with a time of 10:26.90.

Brian Siemann (Savoy, Ill.) finished sixth in the men's 200m T53 final, racing a season's best 27.04.

Zena Cole (Oregon, Ohio) threw a 12.58m in the women's clubs F31/32/51.

U.S. Army Veteran Jose Nieves (Gurabo, Puerto Rico) finished 13th in the men's javelin throw F54/55/56.

Among the highlights of semifinal action, Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Md.) won her heat of the 100m and the 1500m T54, securing her spot in the final of those two events. McFadden, who already has three world championships to her credit this year, is pursuing six gold medals in Lyon.

"My body is tired," McFadden said. "It's hard to do all of these races but the crowd is really pushing me every time I am on the track. I could not ask for a better crowd. They've been so supportive."

Raymond Martin (Jersey City, N.J.) won his semifinal of the men's 200m T52 to keep his hopes alive for five world championships in 2013. Already the owner of three world titles, Martin ran a championship record 31.59.

The 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, July 19-28, feature more than 1,100 athletes, including 76 Americans, from nearly 100 countries. Live streaming and on demand video is available at www.ParalympicSport.TV while live results are available at www.paralympic.org/events/lyon2013.

For more information, please contact Jamie Blanchard, U.S. Paralympics, at 719-237-2179 or jamie.blanchard@usoc.org.

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USA Hockey Announces Roster for U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team

Nine Paralympic Gold Medalists from 2010 Return

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - USA Hockey announced today the 18-player roster for the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. The team was selected following a two-day tryout last week (July 19-20) that included 67 players in Williamsville, N.Y. For a complete roster, which features 10 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders, click here.

The 2014 Paralympic Winter Games will take place March 7-16 in Sochi, Russia. All sled hockey games will be played at Shayba Arena.

"We're incredibly pleased with the roster we have built for the 2014 Paralympic Games," said Dan Brennan, general manager of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. "The talent pool in the U.S. has expanded rapidly in recent years, which made the selection of players very difficult."

"I am excited about the players we have selected," said Jeff Sauer, head coach of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, who is in his third season leading the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team. "We have a great mix of Paralympic Veterans as well as some younger players who are ready to take the next step internationally. "

Nine players return from the 2010 U.S. squad that captured the gold medal at the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver, B.C. The list includes goaltender Steve Cash (Overland, Mo.), who was voted top goaltender of the 2010 Paralympic Games after not allowing a single goal in five games, and defenseman Taylor Chace (Hampton Falls, N.H.), who was named the best defenseman in Vancouver. Additional Paralympic Veterans include defensemen Nikko Landeros (Johnstown, Colo.), Josh Pauls (Green Brook, N.J.) and Andy Yohe (Bettendorf, Iowa); and forwards Taylor Lipsett (Plano, Texas), Adam Page (Lancaster, N.Y.), Alexi Salamone (Buffalo, N.Y.) and Greg Shaw (Merritt Island, Fla.). Cash, Chace, Lipsett, Salamone and Yohe also received bronze medals at the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino, Italy.

Sixteen players on the Paralympic roster were members of the 2012-13 U.S. National Sled Hockey Team that earned the silver medal at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Sled Hockey World Championship. That list includes Tyler Carron (Fort Collins. Colo.), Declan Farmer (Tampa, Fla.), Jen Lee (San Francisco, Calif.), Dan McCoy (Cheswick, Pa.), Kevin McKee (Davenport, Iowa), Rico Roman (Portland, Ore.), Paul Schaus (Buffalo, N.Y.) and Josh Sweeney (Phoenix, Ariz.), in addition to Cash, Chace, Landeros, Lipsett, Page, Pauls, Salamone and Shaw.

NOTES: Team USA's roster will be trimmed to 17 players by Jan. 1, 2014, to conform to the Paralympic Games roster limit ... The U.S. roster is subject to approval of the United States Olympic Committee ... The youngest player on the roster is Brody Roybal (Northlake, Ill.), who turned 15-years old in May and is making his debut on a U.S. National Team. Declan Farmer is also 15-years old and will turn 16 in November ... The oldest player on the squad is Andy Yohe at 35-years old ... Four members of the team have served in the U.S. military. Jen Lee is active duty in the U.S. Army. Rico Roman is a U.S. Army Veteran, while Paul Schaus and Josh Sweeney served in the U.S. Marine Corps ... Dan Brennan, director of sled and inline national teams for USA Hockey, is serving as the general manager of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team ... Guy Gosselin (Grafton, Wis.), American Development Model regional manager for USA Hockey, is in his third season as an assistant coach for the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team ... Additional staff members include team physician Mike Uihlein (Grafton, Wis.), athletic trainer Mike Cortese (Boynton Beach, Fla.) and equipment manager Joel Isaacson (Houghton, Mich.).

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VA Program Fuels Elite Athletic Careers for Veterans and Injured Service Members

Luis Puertas competing at the 2013 Warrior Games

Luis Puertas will fly to France soon as part of the U.S. team that will compete in the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon.

It's a journey that likely never would have happened if Puertas hadn’t been watching the London 2012 Paralympic Games on his computer at home in Orlando, Fla., last summer.

On that day, Puertas saw Great Britain’s Richard Whitehead sprint to a world record and a gold medal in the 200 meters (T42 class).

Puertas, a former specialist with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, already was living an active life — running 10Ks, marathons and swimming — after having lost both his legs above the knees in an explosion that tore apart his Humvee in Iraq in 2006. With the use of prostheses, Puertas was running again less than a year after his surgeries.

Learn More >>

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The First and Only Active Duty Military Wheelchair Basketball Team

Photo of Wolfpack wheelchair basketball team

If you still haven’t heard of the Wolfpack, you’re about to…

The Wolfpack is the first and only Active Duty Military Wheelchair Basketball team participating in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA). They are stationed at Naval Medical Center, San Diego (NMCSD). This is their first season participating in the NWBA. One other thing: they’re awesome.

Last weekend at the Bluegrass Invitational Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, the Wolfpack's warrior spirit was in full effect as they fought to prove they belonged in the highly competitive league. Displaying the tenacity and resolve only learned in military service, the Wolfpack bested their opponents in the finals game, earning the title of Division 3 Champions.

For service members healing in Army Warrior Transition Units (WTU), Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalions (WWB), and Navy Medical Transition Companies participating in adaptive sports can mean the difference between leading an active, healthy lifestyle and never fully recovering from injuries.  The guys on the Wolfpack are living “mission redefined”, and providing an incredible example of what can be accomplished by involvement in adaptive sports.

If you know a disabled Veteran who needs some encouragement, connect him or her to our community sports club finder and our twitter account.  There’s no better way for disabled Veterans to engage community level, adaptive sports in the communities where they live.

You can expect to see the Wolfpack in the upcoming National Championship Tournaments in April. And if history is any indication, it’s going to be one heck of an event.

Learn more about the Wolfpack by contacting Marla Knox, Team manager and Coach, Naval Medical Center San Diego, at marla.knox@med.navy.mil or (619) 532-7722.


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Veterans Represent

Photo of Veteran athlete skiing

Veterans to Represent U.S. at International Nordic Skiing World Championships

Team Selected by US Paralympics for Competition in Sweden

U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, announced today that five athletes will represent the United States at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Championships, Feb. 23-March 5, in Solleftea, Sweden. The roster includes U.S. Navy Lt. Dan Cnossen (Jamestown, Mich.) and Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas), retired Army, who combined for five medals at the recent IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup event in Cable, Wis.

"We are excited to enter a strong team of athletes for the 2013 IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships," said John Farra, high performance director for U.S. Paralympics Nordic skiing. "All of the athletes selected are coming off a very successful IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup on home soil in Cable, Wis., where Dan and Andy medaled. The other three have closed the gap and are climbing toward the podium. It is going to be fun to see what Team USA can do next month."

Team USA has never medaled at the IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships.

Each athlete on the U.S. team is an active duty or military Veteran. Competing for the United States in Solleftea with Cnossen and Soule are: Eric Frazier (Maple Hill, N.C.), retired Marine Corps; Sean Halsted (Spokane, Wash./Twin Lakes, Idaho), retired Air Force; and Jeremy Wagner (Honolulu, Hawaii), retired Army Reserve.

Team USA won 13 medals at the IPC Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable. Cnossen led the way with four medals, two in biathlon and two in cross-country, while Soule won a silver medal in the middle biathlon event. At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Soule won a bronze medal in 2.4km biathlon, becoming the first U.S. athlete to medal in biathlon at the Olympic or Paralympic Winter Games.

An estimated 150 athletes from 15 countries will compete in biathlon and cross-country races at the competition, which marks the final world championship before the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.  The event will be the third world championship for Nordic skiing. Previous IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships took place in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia, in 2011, and the inaugural event was in Vuokatti, Finland, in 2009.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and US Paralympics partner to provide physically disabled Veterans with increased opportunities of activity and wellness.

The Olympic Opportunity Fund is a collaborative between the United States Olympic Committee and VA. The Fund provides grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to organizations that support Paralympic sport and physical activity programs for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.

The VA also provides a training allowance to athletes who meet established eligibility requirements, including training commitment and qualifying competition standards set forth by US Paralympics.


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Veterans Compete

Photo of Veteran athlete skiing

Veterans Compete in Force at Nordic Skiing World Cup

Participation success highlights partnership of VA, US Paralympics

It was an accident not unheard of for a young combat Veteran.

In June 2008, Omar Bermejo had recently returned from his fourth deployment to Iraq. The then 27 year-old Marine Corps sergeant was racing through life, searching for the familiar rush of fear and adrenaline that had been fueled by bullets and IED’s only months before. He bought a motorcycle with the money he’d received as a bonus for his service.

The curve, the gravel, a sense of invincibility, all caused him to lose control of the bike, he said. He slammed into a guardrail nearly severing his arm between the bike and the metal. Many surgeries later, doctors would amputate his arm at the shoulder.

“The day to forget and the day my life changed,” Bermejo said. “It’s true when they say that one of the ways to appreciate life to the fullest, is to almost die.”

In the aftermath of his changed life he became depressed and hopeless. “I was pretty down after my accident,” he said. The once fit Marine says he gained weight and felt out of shape. He decided to use some of his benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and visited a nearby VA Medical Center.

“They were awesome, always letting me know I’m not by myself,” he said. “I knew it’s not over. My time here is not over yet.”

He remembers a visit to a wing of hospitalized Veterans all of them amputees.

“There was this guy who lost his leg above the knee. He was telling me ‘Don’t give up. Don’t cash in. Give it your all.’”

Today, Bermejo is a competitive Nordic skier with hopes of making the 2014 Paralympics in biathlon, a combination of cross country skiing and marksmanship. He was one of eight military Veterans on the 11-man U.S. biathlon team at the International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup in Cable, Wisc. Jan. 12-20.

The number of Veterans who competed in the event is an example of the joint efforts by the VA and US Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, to provide physically disabled Veterans with increased opportunities of activity and wellness.

Through an active recruitment effort, US Biathlon Paralympic coach Rob Rosser said he makes visits to military and VA Medical Centers year round.

“Most Veterans joined the military because they wanted a challenge, are highly competitive and enjoy physical exertion,” he said. “Biathlon combines the most physiologically demanding sport of cross country skiing with a more mentally challenging sport of marksmanship, under stress of high heart rate and the pressure of the clock running as they shoot. Veteran athletes tell me they picked biathlon because it was the most challenging and most similar to their combat job – moving and shooting.”

Army Veteran Jeremy Wagner wasn’t sure if biathlon was for him when he was first asked to try the sport.

In 2007, after a year in Iraq, he too returned home and suffered a motorcycle accident. The crash injured his spinal cord and he lost the use of his legs.

“After my injury I was just taking it one day at a time,” Wagner said. “I did some rehab on my own, but my cousin helped me go to the VA.”

The Hawaii native was treated at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Center in California.

“That’s where my real road to recovery began,” he said. “My therapist in Palo Alto gave me all the necessary tools to get me going again.” She also introduced him to the VA’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

In 2010, while competing in the Games in Denver, Wagner was approached by a Paralympics biathlon coach.

“I guess he saw me doing the slalom event, and he asked me if I’d be interested in biathlon.”

Wagner took a chance and gave up the sandy beaches of Hawaii for the snowcaps of the Colorado Rockies. He moved in with his cousin in Colorado where he now trains full-time in biathlon.

His effort has paid off. In June 2012, Wagner was named to the 2012-13 US Paralympic Nordic Skiing National Team.

“You may think, ‘I’ll never be at that level,’ but you never know until you try,” he said. “A lot of us, we want to be good at something right away. When we don’t, we give up. But every champion wasn’t a champion from the start.”

Wagner trains at the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) in Winter Park, Colo.
In October 2012, NSCD was named one of 97 organizations to receive a grant through the Olympic Opportunity Fund, a partnership between the United States Olympic Committee and VA. The Fund provides grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to organizations that support Paralympic sport and physical activity programs for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.

In its third year, the fund has provided more than $4 million to 223 USOC partner and community programs, and has resulted in thousands of Veterans with physical and visual impairments participating in sport programs.

“The partnership and support from the VA has given hope to numerous Veterans,” Rosser said. “As the programs grow and expand, the entire country gains awareness of the positive aspects sport offers our Veterans, and the long-lasting affects it has on their quality of life after the sacrifice they have made for our country.”

Wagner also receives a monthly training allowance from the VA. The VA and US Paralympics’ collaborative provides a stipend to athletes who meet established eligibility requirements, including training commitment and qualifying competition standards.

“The stipend really helps with purchasing poles, gloves, all of the other equipment that’s necessary,” he said.

When Kevin Burton arrived at the event in Cable, he was still learning the sport and had yet to qualify for the training stipend.

In 2010, while on active duty in the Navy, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease. The former Arabic linguist had served nine years with the Navy including tours to Iraq and Kuwait when he began losing his eyesight. Before being medically retired, he was treated at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center’s Augusta Blind Rehabilitation Center in Georgia.

“The blind rehab program was amazing,” Burton said. “I was really worried about losing my remaining vision, but after going through that, I’m not that worried. I know I can still do pretty much anything.”

In March 2012, Burton attended the VA’s National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo. It was the first time he’d been on skis since losing his sight.

Like all biathlon athletes, he skis and shoots targets, but being visually impaired he has a guide who skis in front of him and shouts directions during the cross country skiing. When it comes time to shoot the rifle he uses audio cues and the pitch of a tone to zone in on the target.

“You wear headphones to tell you how close you are, and if you are on target,” he said. “The normal shooting advice doesn’t apply to the visually impaired. It’s strictly distance from the center.”

Despite his newcomer status, Burton went on to win a silver medal in Cable and his finishing time was good enough to earn him the VA training stipend.

“A lot of my success is because of the support I’ve been given from day one,” he said. “But I’ve still got to work hard and keep improving.”

Bermejo agreed. He also qualified for the training allowance during the event.

“Know if you put in the work and have positive thoughts, good things will happen,” he said. “The opportunities are there, but in the end, if you want something you will go get it.”

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MISSION REDEFINED:

Encouraging Veterans with Physical Disabilities to Take On Sports

Michael Johnston is a paratriathlete with hopes of competing in the sport’s Paralympic Games debut in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

But he is also part of another mission: He’s trying to encourage fellow Veterans and members of the Armed Forces with physical disabilities to get involved in sports to help open doors to new activities, enrich their lives and get them moving forward.

The “Mission Redefined” campaign, a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Paralympics, will release a 30-second public service announcement on Jan. 15 that features Johnston sprinting down a track.

Johnston says it’s a campaign he’s proud to be a part of, and believes it’s necessary to help disabled Veterans see what’s possible.

“When they get out of the military, they don’t really know where to go,” he said. “They don’t know how to get reconnected with their community, with life, so sports are a great way of bridging that gap.”

* * *

Johnston knows firsthand about making the transition from being injured in the military to becoming an athlete.

In 2003, Johnston, then in the Navy, lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident. Yet he was able go through rehabilitation, learn to walk with a prosthesis and return to active duty.

His life had gone through a traumatic change, but by staying in the Navy for another seven years he was able to adjust while in a familiar environment.

“I was expected to do the same duties as everybody else and that I previously had been doing,” he said.

But it wasn’t easy.

“After I was injured, I wasn’t even 21 yet, so I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to achieve in my life and I had very little direction,” he recalled.
After going through rehabilitation and learning to use his prosthesis (his leg was amputated just below the knee), he began to challenge himself.

What were his limits? What could he do physically? He wanted to not only test himself but prove to others that assumptions of limitations were wrong.

“(It) gave me a drive and determination to break those perceptions, you know, that ‘This guy’s going to slow us down’ and whatnot, of physical limitations that people associate with a lot of amputees and disabilities in general,” he said.

Eventually, he got involved in sports through the Navy’s Operation Rebound program and also the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

In 2008, he began competing in paratriathlons, and he’s competed internationally for the U.S. Paratriathlon National Team. In 2011, he finished fourth at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championship in Beijing.

Becoming an athlete has helped Johnston redefine his own life.

Now he is trying to help others redefine theirs.

* * *

The PSA begins with Johnston at the starting line. At the sound of a starter’s pistol, Johnston bursts from the blocks.

As the camera captures him in full stride, the words “Passion,” “Power,” and then  “Strength” appear in place of his churning left leg, until “Strength” explodes and falls away, revealing Johnston’s racing prosthesis. As he sprints away, the words “Mission Redefined” appear on screen and a narrator says, “Redefine your mission. Find a sport, get involved.” The spot ends with the Mission ReDefined and U.S. Paralympics logos.

Viewers can then go to the Department of Veterans Affairs Adaptive Sports site (www.va.gov/adaptivesports) to find affiliated sports clubs around the nation in which they can get involved.

As Johnston reflects on the weeks and months after his injury in 2003, he believes the “Mission Redefined” campaign would have been inspirational.

“It would definitely move me and hopefully inspire me to get out and re-engage in sports and life again,” he said, recalling that he felt lost at the time.

 

The message with this campaign, he said, is that people and programs are out there to help Veterans get moving, and being active — finding a sport or activity — is a terrific step. But the message, he said, is even simpler.

“The big push I have is just getting involved,” said Johnston, now living in San Diego. “Just getting off the couch and being reconnected.”

* * *
Christopher Nowak, VA’s director of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, is in charge of the “Mission Redefined” campaign. Nowak, a Marine Corps Veteran who lost his right leg while serving, started work on the campaign in 2011.

To Nowak, Mission Redefined has multiple meanings.

 “One is the VA itself,” Nowak said. “We’re redefining our mission on how we deliver adaptive sports to Veterans as well as sporting opportunities. And also we’re using the campaign for Veterans. There’s an opportunity to redefine their mission in life. They’ve been through a traumatic injury and this is an opportunity for them to use sports to redefine their mission.”

The campaign’s name works, he said, because to men and women in the military, “everything is defined as a mission.”

“What we hope with this campaign is that Veterans understand that after a traumatic injury life is not over. It may seem like it, they all go through it, as well as I did,” he said. “You go through a certain phase in your life after your injury. But something clicks in” to get them back on track, he said, and sports can be a giant part of that process.

This campaign, combined with the success and attention garnered by some of the military Veterans competing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, is providing a whole new layer of attention and information for Veterans, Nowak said.

And working with the U.S. Olympic Committee as a partner, he said, has helped the VA “get out of the box” and push the message in the most effective way possible.

For Johnston, who was involved in filming the PSA— doing countless takes until 2 or 3 in the morning on a high school track north of Los Angeles — the joint V.A./U.S. Paralympic campaign is worth every penny.

“Anybody that sees it will connect with it,” he said. “It breaks down all borders. It’s not just amputees, not just military. Everybody will connect with forward movement.”
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

Get started by learning how disabled Veterans can benefit from adaptive sports. Check out the website and if you still have questions, contact us at vacoadaptiveSP@va.gov.

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