Athlete-mentors make "Major" impact
When Ryan Major came home from
A U.S. Army veteran who served 11 months on duty in
Nowadays, he can say proudly that he has competed in a six-mile handcycling race in
“It took me a while, a long while, to get to where I am now,’’ Major said. “I was really down on myself.’’
Major is one of countless wounded servicemembers who have undergone rehabilitative treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who have become competitive athletes as part of their overall rehabilitation.
Some of these veterans make the transformation toward becoming Paralympic athletes. Others, like Major, aren’t sure where their sports journey will take them. But for the most part, these servicemen and women have come to see their involvement with sports as a benefit to their overall health and return to society following their tours of duty.
This week, nearly 225 athletes from the 2010
But another very important activity is a trip to Walter Reed, where on Tuesday Olympians and Paralympians will screen an abridged version of the documentary “Warrior Champions’’ along with patients and staff. Among the athletes scheduled to be in attendance are two Walter Reed alumni, Melissa Stockwell, a Paralympic swimmer who competed in Beijing and Heath Calhoun, a double amputee and Paralympic alpine skier who was chosen at the U.S. Flag Bearer at the Opening Ceremony for the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
“Warrior Champions’’ tells the emotional and inspiring story of a group of wounded American soldiers as they realize the powerful role that sport can play in rehabilitation and in life.
For Major, it is a story that hits close to home. Major was injured in
Like Major, Calhoun also was injured in a blast in
It will be inspiring for Major to see Calhoun. The two met previously and both worked with the same physical therapist. Major, 25, had never skied before his injury, but has come to love it as part of his rehabilitation. And he can appreciate the elite level Calhoun has achieved in the sport.
“Since my injury,’’ Major said, “I have tried a lot of things I didn’t do before. It really has opened my eyes.’’
Seeing athletes such as Calhoun and what they have achieved also motivates other wounded soldiers like Major who are still experimenting with various sports as part of their therapy. Major usually comes to Walter Reed four days a week for various therapeutic work. Usually, he is scheduled for two-hour sessions, but sometimes he will spend up to four hours in one day at the hospital.
“My main goal is to be completely independent as I once was,’’ Major said. “Having sports in my life is a huge plus. I have always been a sports fanatic. I think the only sport I didn’t participate in was hockey. Sports have been so helpful. It gives me something I can relate to in my therapy.’’
Heather Campbell, now a consultant for the military program with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Division, met Major shortly after he returned to the
“I remember him from Day One,’’
Her job as a therapist was to convince him that he could try all sorts of sports and activities. They tried ping-pong, played video games on the Wii and even visited some museums. She was coaching a wheelchair rugby team at the time and had Major come out to see what he thought.
Later on, Major was discharged from the hospital and started undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed, and as luck would have it,
“To see him progress from where he thought he was not going to do any of this, ever, to where he is now … well, it was terrific,’’
As tremendous as his progression was, his story is not that unique.
“A lot of times the guys we get did sports before their injury and sports is part of helping them getting the pieces of their life back together,’’ Campbell said. “It is a really big for them and it’s also helpful for their socialization. They get to bond with their teammates.’’
And many of those teammates understand exactly what their new friends are going through on and off the court.
Major is looking forward to Tuesday when he will see some of the Paralympians who also know what it is like to serve in the military, suffer a major injury and turn their lives around with the help of sports. And Major knows that there are numerous Paralympic Military Sports Camps and opportunities for servicemembers.
Whether Major follows the path that military veterans such as Stockwell and Calhoun have paved remains uncertain, but their Paralympic success has already served as a Major inspiration.