On July 6, 2011, while on a foot patrol in Kajaki, a village in
southern Afghanistan, Marine Corps Sgt. Mike Nicholson was hit with
a 40-pound roadside bomb. The blast took off his right leg at the
hip, his left leg through the knee and his left arm below the elbow.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
But here at the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games, the
medically retired former artilleryman of five years, doesn’t focus
on the 33 surgeries he underwent, but on his recovery.
July 2, 2017- Marine Corps veteran Sgt. Mike Nicholson prepares to
start a wheel chair race during the 2017 Department of Defense
Warrior Games at Lane Technical College Preparatory High School in
Chicago. The DoD Warrior Games are an annual event allowing wounded,
ill and injured service members and veterans to compete in
Paralympic-style sports. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)
Nicholson said joining the Marine Corps was appropriate for him
because the military was in his blood.
“My whole family’s
military," Nicholson said. "My grandfather on my mother’s side was a
machine gunner in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge in the
Army. My great grandfather on my dad’s side was a machine gun
lieutenant in the Army for World War I. My grandfather on my dad’s
side was a Navy submariner, so he captained a submarine. My dad was
Navy intelligence; my uncle was Navy ordinance on an aircraft
carrier in Vietnam, so it’s in the blood.”
said his wife, Katie, who he’s been married to for a year and four
months, pushed him to get involved with adaptive sports. They just
had a baby boy, Sawyer and have a daughter, Callie, 12.
“She started getting me out and being more
active,” he said. “She took me and my family to the Invictus Games
in Orlando, and I got tapped into the program with the Wounded
Warrior Regiment, and I’ve been coming out to the camps. There were
definitely the dark days with recovery, just kind of holed up in a
room, not really wanting to be around anybody, angry at the world
but then you get out.”
He said one of the challenges was not
use to being a civilian anymore after being in the military. “But if
you’ve you got a really good support system and a will to wake up in
the morning and take care of the day, then you’ll be all right. It
takes a little bit of everything. It’s definitely people all around
you, organizations around you, military, everybody,” Nicholson said.
“Adaptive sports definitely helped me pull out of it. My wife said
the other day that I wake up with a smile on my face every day now;
that’s a pretty big accomplishment for somebody in my particular
Nicholson said his daughter is active in sports such as
volleyball and soccer and helps keep him active. “She plays sports
for her school so it’s really good to get out and play with her and
be active,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to help her grow and
watch her grow in her own sporting world because that’s what I did
growing up. Being able to watch her do the same thing, it’s a good
reason to get up in the morning.”
high school, Nicholson said he excelled in soccer and golf, but
would play volleyball, basketball and any other sport he could. Here
at the warrior games, he competed in the 100-meter, 200-meter and
400-meter racing chair for track, and will compete in the 50-yard
freestyle, 50-yard backstroke, 50-yard breaststroke, 100-yard
freestyle and a relay event in swimming. He earned a gold medal in
the 200-meter and a silver medal in the 100-meter track events.
Nicholson said his favorite sport is swimming, and that his
daughter swims like a fish and races him. “She loves to swim. She’s
beat me a few times. We played tag a few times in the Gulf of
Mexico. She’s fast; I couldn’t catch her,” he said laughing. “She’s
He said his family is his main motivation as he
competes this week in the Warrior Games. “Those three are my main
motivation in the world,” he said. “They’re who I get up for. I just
want to make them proud. I want to show my daughter it doesn’t
matter how hard you get knocked down, you can always get back up.
There’s always something you can do. We don’t like to use the word
can’t in our house.”
He said he’s also happy his family is
here to see him compete because his wife is the one who helped get
him in the gym and push him out of that dark place in his recovery.
“I didn’t even want to go to the gym. She started pushing me to go
out and be comfortable out in public during the daytime. It was a
big step for me to be able to go out with the civilians and act fine
and not worry about how I look or what things are going to happy.
She’s the main reason I compete. I want to show her that it wasn’t
for nothing,” he said.
About 265 wounded, ill and injured
service members and veterans representing teams from the Army,
Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations
Command, United Kingdom and the Australian Defense Force are
competing in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming,
sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
By Shannon Collins
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