From Combat Controller To Paralympian
(April 4, 2010)
Sean Halsted gets strapped into a mono-ski outside The Silvertree Hotel for the 24th National Disabled American Veterans Winter Sports Clinic March 30, 2010, in Snowmass Village, Colo. Mr. Halsted
is an Air Force veteran and resides in Rathdrum, Idaho. The event is sponsored
by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans. USAF photo
by Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios
|SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. (3/31/2010 - AFNS)
-- In the blink of an eye your life can change
That's exactly what happened to Sean Halsted
when he fell 40 feet to the ground while fast
roping from a helicopter during a training
mission at Hurlburt Field, Fla. He went from an
active-duty combat controller to a U.S.
Paralympian in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
"I don't remember what happened," said Mr.
Halsted, a former combat controller stationed at
then McChord Air Force Base, Wash. "I just know
one minute I was reaching for the rope and the
next I was on the ground with my back hurting
and the guys are telling me to lay still. We had
some (pararescuemen) there too, and they were
telling me to lay still and wiggle my toes. It
was just a simple training and I fell off the
As a result of the accident, Mr. Halsted
incurred a first lumbar vertebrae burst fracture
that damaged his spinal cord.
"That left me a pretty low (paralysis)," he
said. "As a paraplegic, that's pretty good
because there's a lot of guys who have a
(paralysis) in the (thoracic vertebrae) level
and they have a lot less function than I do."
Mr. Halsted's outlook about his prognosis of his
injury wasn't always so positive.
"When I got hurt it was like, life is over. Good
thing there's the Internet; good thing there's
DVD players," Mr. Halsted said. "I'll just be
sitting in my room passing the time and looking
on the Internet. I found out that's not the
case. Life goes on. Life is still there."
The Department of Veterans Affairs staff helped
Mr. Halsted see he had access to programs to
help him get back to living life.
"The VA is a great insurance company," he said. "We've got
one of the best programs that help you out with anything
that you've got. It's workman's (compensation) basically.
I've met a bunch of guys who's workman's (compensation) gave
up on them a long time ago and they had to turn to the VA
because they didn't know what was available to them. I was
just lucky I had the right people in the right places that
said no, you're good to go, you've got these support
systems. It's there, don't worry about. If things happen
it's there. There are people to look after you."
The Washington State University graduate said his physical
training as a combat controller also helped him on his road
(As a combat controller) you have these expectations," Mr.
Halsted said. "You can't accept sitting in your room. It
took me a while to get through that because I was stuck in
my room. I couldn't do the level of stuff I used to do. The
training really did help me because my expectations were a
Upon the urging of his physical therapist and the staff at
the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Halsted discovered a
program that met his high physical expectations: the
National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
"I started at winter sports clinic in 2001," he said. "It
took three years to get here because I thought, 'Why would
anyone want to put themselves through that kind of gut
check; to come up to the mountains and wheel around in the
snow?' I thought, 'What's the point?' Then I came and I was
like, 'Wow, I was such an idiot!"
Once Mr. Halsted started attending the NDVWSC, he realized
he had a passion for adaptive Nordic skiing versus the
adaptive Alpine skiing he was doing before.
"I went with cross country skiing because I like that
endorphin rush and it's fun being out in the woods and it's
fun being on the slopes," he said. "I was an Alpine skier
before. Racing Alpine just isn't my thing. I just wasn't
getting that exertion that I used to get. For me it was just
a natural fit to come to Nordic skiing. It just fit
everything I wanted."
The training at the winter sports clinic helped Mr. Halsted
go on to compete at the next level.
"It was essential basically because it exposed me to what
was possible," he said. "Without that exposure, I don't know
that I would've tried. I think it would've taken me a lot
more to get out and start doing stuff. I would've just stuck
with wheelchair basketball and I wouldn't have been happy.
It was because they exposed me to these sports that it was
like 'Oh wow, there's more out there.'"
In the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games, Mr. Halsted finished
in the top 10 in all three of the events he participated in
and he's not planning on slowing down anytime soon.
"I'm definitely going to try to keep trying to go with the
Nordic adaptive ski team," he said. "Hopefully it'll mean (Sochi
Russia 2014 Winter Games) in the next four years and
definitely it'll mean World Cups in Europe and where ever
they are in the next fours years. I want to push it as far
as I can but I also want to open to the sport. I don't want
someone to be like, 'I wish I had known about that.' I can't
let that be an excuse. The worst excuse I can hear is I wish
I had known about that. I want to be part of the solution
and make sure more people know and more people get
What does Mr. Halsted have to say to disabled veterans who
haven't been to the NDVWSC?
"Get off your (butt) and get out here," he said. "There's a
lot of (disabled veterans) who've got their couch potato
tickets and they're punching them. Life is still going on,
you have to live life. It gets me all riled up, but you
don't stand out side the fire, you keep going. Don't exist,
By USAF SSgt. Mareshah Haynes
Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
Air Force News Service
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