“But freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it and then hand it to them with the well thought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same. And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
Ronald Reagan, 1961
Flags waved. Fans cheered. And wounded warriors from around the world proved once again that they would not be conquered by their injuries. As hundreds of adaptive athletes participated last week in the second Invictus Games, the overwhelming message was the importance of integrative healing—body, mind, and spirit. Athlete after athlete shared their story of how adaptive sports has played a major role in all aspects of their recovery. From renewing camaraderie and achieving goals, to putting their problems in perspective and ultimately inspiring others, competing in adaptive sports is giving wounded warriors a new lease on life.
Any service member knows the camaraderie that comes as a natural part of being in the military. But what happens when that “brotherhood” is broken, as in the case of injury? For many a wounded warrior, the time when they need the most support is often when they feel the most isolated. Getting involved in adaptive sports affords them the companionship and team spirit that is missed when injury removes a service member from active duty. Camaraderie on the playing field is as important to a warrior’s recovery as it was to mission success on the battleground.
“If you can think it, you can do it,” answered Denmark’s Maurice Manuel, when asked how adaptive sports has impacted his recovery. The combat translator served six tours in the Middle East before losing his leg to an IED. Recovery is marked by achievement, from literal “baby steps” on a new prosthetic to relearning how to write with the other hand. Setting goals becomes a necessary part of living. How can adaptive sports help? Quite simply, as another Invictus athlete quipped, “It got me off the couch”. Physical fitness aids long-term recovery. But perhaps more importantly, adaptive sports helps the wounded warrior stay mentally strong, as they set – and achieve – big-picture goals that they otherwise might not have considered. The determination it takes to rebuild a broken body for competitive sports spurs an adaptive athlete on to achievement in other areas as they transition into civilian life.
Competing in adaptive sports takes an athlete’s focus off of his or her individual hardships, and shifts their attention to team work. The group may be comprised of athletes from varying backgrounds, branches, and degrees of injury, but team spirit trumps individual differences. Competition becomes an effective outlet for the pent-up energy and emotions resulting from years of painful recovery. It puts things in perspective: there will always be a teammate whose injuries are worse than one’s own, their story more horrific, their capacity more limited. Yet on the playing field, strengths and weaknesses are leveled as teammates combine forces toward a common goal.
“I want to be an inspiration to other people,” said Tim Payne, the double amputee who, with literally half a body, swam his way to gold in the men’s 100m freestyle. Success in adaptive sports is a crowning moment for the wounded warrior; the blood, sweat, and tears that got them there were worth it. And for the devoted family and friends who have been by their warrior’s side through thick and thin, victory is the fruit of their labors. But it goes even further. The unconquerable spirit exhibited by an adaptive athlete is immensely inspiring to fellow human beings who are experiencing their own set of trials. Maybe their circumstances are worlds apart, but it gives them the courage and determination to press on, to reach the other side—unconquered.
Copyright © 2016 Sarah E. Dautel