Wounded Warriors Enjoy Summer Sports Clinic
(September 26, 2010)
|WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2010 – Traumatic brain injuries,
amputations and other combat wounds aren't getting in the
way of a good time -– and a great rehabilitative experience
–- for 75 disabled veterans participating this week in the
National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego.|
|Disabled veterans enjoy camaraderie as well as competition at the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego.
on September 24, 2010. VA photo
The clinic, sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Department,
opened Sept. 18 and wraps up with closing ceremonies later
About a third of the participants were wounded in Iraq and
Afghanistan, with some still being processed through the
disability evaluation system, officials reported. For many,
the clinic is their introduction to adaptive sports and
recreational activities, and the therapeutic value of
sailing, surfing, cycling, kayaking and track and field
Raymond Warren, a 29-year-old Marine lance corporal severely
wounded in Iraq when a grenade embedded shrapnel in his
brain, legs, stomach and arms, said first learning of his
severe traumatic brain injury felt like a death sentence.
Always highly competitive, Warren feared when he first awoke
at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., that
an important part of his life was forever gone. “It hit me
pretty hard,” he said.
But this week, as he ran hurdles, kayaked and tried his hand
at sailing, surfing and other clinic events alongside his
fellow veterans, Warren said he found himself focusing on
his abilities rather than his disabilities.
“This shows me I've still got what I used to have,” he said.
“There's nothing that can stop me from accomplishing the
goals I've set forth in front of me.”
Like Warren, Carlos Figueroa always had been a devoted
‘jock' before he was medically evacuated from Afghanistan
with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress
disorder and nerve injuries to his left leg.
“I've always been really competitive and big into sports,
but when I got out of the service with my injury, I realized
that I could no longer do any of the sports I used to play
because I couldn't run,” said the 31-year-old medically
retired Marine. A friend introduced Figueroa to mixed
martial arts and jujitsu, which have helped to renew his
competitive spirit. “Once we hit the floor, I am no longer
disabled,” he said. “It's a fair game for both of us.”
Both Figueroa and Warren got their first exposure to VA's
sports clinic program while attending the National Disabled
Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colo. Warren has
participated three times. Figueroa attended the clinic for
the first time this spring.
“Since my injury, I've competed in other events, and
typically I would be the only disabled participant,” he
said. “But the satisfaction of competing at the winter
sports clinic felt 10 times greater -- just being around
other disabled veterans, with everyone trying their hardest
and knowing that, whether you succeed or not, everyone has
achieved a goal in some way, just by being there.”
A joker at heart, Figueroa said the winter sports clinic
restored the smile he'd lost and instilled a newfound
self-confidence that has helped him resume a full life.
“What I took back from it was not to underestimate myself,
not to let my disability control me,” he said. “There are
still tons of things I can do out there.”
While relishing the competition at their first summer sports
clinic, both Warren and Figueroa say they're buoyed just as
much by the camaraderie they've found among their fellow
“You're with people who know what you're going through,”
Warren said. “We understand each other, so this is like a
second family, away from your family.”
“This is great for veterans,” agreed Figueroa. “I see the
smile on so many veterans' faces while we are competing. ...
You get participating in an event, and somehow, the pain
goes away. I don't know why. Maybe it's just the simple fact
that you are around other disabled veterans.”
Warren said he has benefitted greatly from the lessons
shared by veterans with more experience living with their
“When you fall down, get up. Keep going forward,” he said.
“And don't let anything hold you down.”
Warren has taken those lessons to heart, noting he shares
them with the newer disabled veterans he meets.
“Don't give up on your goals,” Warren said he tells his
comrades. “And come to these events, because you are among
other veterans going through what you are going through, and
they will help you through it.”
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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