Wounded Military Veterans Are ‘Back in the Game’


Paralympics Gives Injured Military a Chance to Compete Again

A lot of wounded service members are back to doing what they love sports.

Through the combined efforts of U.S. Paralympics, Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), the Department of Veterans Affairs and other partner organizations across the nation, the third Paralympic Military Summit was held in San Diego from Aug. 15-19.

During the Military Summit, active duty service members and veterans who have suffered severe injuries, either in or out of combat, participate in various Paralympic sports.

They have the opportunity to go all the way to the Paralympic games.

“If they have a goal in mind, anything’s possible,” said Joaquim Cruz, national team coach for ambulatory athletes, and resident coach at the Olympic Training Center.

Cruz said that it’s often in a service member’s nature to be a part of athletics, regardless if they’re in a wheelchair or missing a limb…


“There’s nothing better than sports to get these kids back to their normal lives,” Cruz said. “Sports are competitive, challenging; and this is something that they can relate to because before they went to the war, they were athletes.

“Everything about the military is about being an athlete. They’re athletic and use their bodies a lot; and when they (come back to sports), they’re like Oh, I know how to do this, even without a limb.

“They need to understand they have an opportunity here; we have Paralympics, the organization, we have the world championships, we have trials, things for them to do if they want to get involved,” Cruz continued.

One Sailor who has made the most of his opportunities in the Paralympics went all the way to the Paralympic games and brought home gold.

When Casey Tibbs isn’t training for the next Paralympics, he works at NMCSD encouraging other paraplegics to get involved in the program.

“One of the main goals of this is to teach these guys about their prosthetics and their wheelchairs, and the things that they can do with their prosthetics,” Tibbs said.

“So part of what we do is teach these guys how they can run 100 percent and do the same things they used to do before they lost their legs, and that they should be able to learn how to trust their equipment and take it to the maximum potential that their prosthesis will allow them to do.

“Some of these guys would never do that; they would just get these prosthetics made and go out and jog, and not know. They can do all these things even though they have prosthesis or they’re in a wheelchair,” said Tibbs.

Some service members like Nathaniel Leoncio, who trains at NMCSD, aren’t in it for gold, they’re just happy to be active again.

“I’m just getting into the running; we have great physical therapy and great people who coach it,” Leoncio said.

The service members had many different options at the summit for events they chose to compete in. Among them were swimming, track-and-field, archery and volleyball.

Commander, NMCSD Rear Adm. Brian Brannman talked about the difference sports can have in the lives of injured service members working towards rehabilitation.

The whole object of rehabilitation is to get people back to a normal life,” Brannman said, “and this has been a great introduction to a lot of our warriors that they don’t have to be sidelined by the fact that they lost a limb or got a neurological injury; that they can go out and participate actively and be active as they were before their injuries.

“These are all young people who are very vital, very active in their lives, and this gives them a chance to recapture that.”

“Not everyone is going to be doing this at a world class level, but the fact that you’ve got something; you’re not going home and watching TV when people talk about going skiing or something over the weekend; you’re going out and you’re competing, whether it’s the wheelchair games or volleyball, swimming and being active in sports; and that’s important.
“We talk in the military about never leaving anyone behind. That’s true on the battle field, but it’s also true in life.”


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