“I worked hard to wear a uniform and in representing my country during my
military career,” the former cavalry scout said in an interview with American
Forces Press Service. “It's what I wanted to do, and things were going great.”
McDonald began rehabilitation at the Pal Alto Veterans Affairs hospital in
northern California, near his home in Orangevale. He was introduced to adaptive
sports, and discovered what a powerful and positive impact sports could have. He
also found a way to serve his country again.
McDonald took part in his first international competition last month at the 2010
Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, on the curling team.
“Being a Paralympian means a lot,” he said. “Learning about wheelchair sports,
that's where I knew I could represent my country again, but this time in
The U.S. wheelchair curling team was edged out 7-5 by Sweden in the bronze medal
round. Another adaptive sports accomplishment McDonald holds is the U.S. Golf
Association record for longest drive from a chair -- 358 yards. He also shoots
to a 1.7 USGA handicap, he said.
McDonald also is training for the 2012 Paralympic Summer Games in London as an
air rifle marksman.
Winning a medal in both the summer and winter Paralympics is a very important
goal for him, he explained, but he noted that his life isn't all about winning
and glory. Living a happy life, whether you're a hard-charging soldier or a
disabled veteran, means setting goals and believing in your ability to
accomplish them, he said.
Thousands of wounded warriors and disabled veterans have been down similar
roads. And since after World War II, they've been taking advantage of the
healing power of sports, whether in international play, at the VA summer and
winter sports clinics or in their local communities. Adaptive sports can have a
truly positive impact on everyone trying to overcome disabilities, McDonald
McDonald was in good company at the Paralympics. He was among five disabled
veterans on the 50-member U.S. Paralympic team in Vancouver, all have probably
thought at some point in their rehabilitation that competing in high-level
athletics and representing their nation in the Olympic Games was a bit of a long
shot, he said.
“If you believe in what you do, just do it,” McDonald said. “It doesn't matter
if you have a disability or not. Victory belongs to those who believe in it the
most and who believes the longest.”
Veterans who competed in the 2010 Paralympic Games along with McDonald are:
Army Staff Sgt. Health Calhoun, who lost both
legs to a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq and competed in alpine
skiing. He also served as the U.S. flag bearer during the opening
Army Sgt. Andrew Soule, who won a bronze medal
in the 2.4-kilometer sitting pursuit biathlon and competed in cross-country
skiing. Both of Soule's legs were amputated above the knee after a roadside
bomb struck his Humvee in Afghanistan in 2005.
Chris Devlin-Young, a Coast Guard veteran, who
competed in his fourth Paralympics as an alpine skier. He won four medals –
two gold and two silver – in his previous games.
- Sean Halsted, an Air Force veteran who became paralyzed from the waist
down after falling 40 feet from a helicopter during a training accident in
1998 and competed in alpine skiing.
All five of the athletes were introduced to adaptive sports at their VA
hospitals and VA summer and winter sports clinics, a recognition the VA is very
proud of, said L. Tammy Duckworth, VA assistant secretary for public and
intergovernmental affairs and disabled Iraq war veteran, in an interview with
American Forces Press Service.
“It's something that's been a long-standing tradition in VA, rehabilitating
combat-wounded veterans [with sports],” Duckworth said. “And for the athletes
themselves, it's such an incredible part of their rehabilitation.”
Duckworth lost both of her legs and partial use of an arm after the helicopter
she was piloting was shot down in Iraq in 2004. She was introduced to adaptive
sports at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, she said.
Just months into her in her recovery, she found herself in Colorado Springs,
Colo., at the VA Winter Sports Clinic. Learning to ski without legs gave her an
edge and confidence she thought she'd lost forever, she said.
“It really gave me something to work towards,” she said. “From the first moments
of my injury, it set my standards really high, and keeping [disabled veterans']
expectations high is really critical to their rehabilitation.”
Adaptive sports do more than just make Paralympic teams better, Duckworth said.
Disabled veteran athletes are raising the bar throughout the country. Either
through setting standards and motivating disabled civilians or through “bringing
new blood” to the games themselves, the veteran community is going to continue
to have an impact on the Paralympics, Duckworth said.
“When you can see somebody who's in the Paralympics nine or 18 months after he
was blown up in Iraq, that's extremely motivating four our country as a whole,”
she explained. “It can quickly be motivating for a young kid who was in a car
accident and lost his legs.
“People are going to be able to see these warriors achieving and excelling even
with devastating injuries,” she continued. “It's just good for the country as a