Deloitte Featured Warrior: Randi McCartney

May 14, 2010, 8:51 a.m. (ET)
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” warns Army athlete Randi McCartney during her interview as the Deloitte Featured Warrior.  It’s a simple reminder for all who might not notice her injuries at first glance.  The disabilities affecting the 187 wounded warriors competing at the inaugural Warrior Games vary widely.  Most you see right away and in others, it’s much harder to recognize. 

McCartney is one of several athletes competing this week with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and for her, therapy and escape from this harsh reality comes in the form of sports.  She’s thankful that her recovery has led her back to the pool where she grew up swimming, only to give it up in high school to try other sports. 

“It’s the most peaceful time of my day,” McCartney says of swimming.  “In the water, no matter how hard I’m working, it’s where I find my peace.” Deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, McCartney says that the stuff she saw and the things she encountered there are etched in here mind forever.  “We got hit pretty hard and lost a bunch of pretty important people,” she says.  “Three-quarters of our squad were injured severely and something like that never leaves you. So, that’s one of the reasons I’m here and it’s why I’m striving to do my very best.  Because it’s not just for me, but for those that help me get to this point.  I want to show people I’m still fighting for everything.”

One of the people McCartney credits most for getting her to the Warrior Games is her husband, who also serves as her swim coach.  She credits him for never allowing her to quit and knowing when to push her and when to let off.  But, McCartney jokes that a simple reminder to her husband always kept the wife-husband-coach-pupil relationship in check.

 “I always told him that ‘remember, you have to go home with me at the end of the day, because if you want to eat dinner you still have to take me home and you can’t work me too hard.’”

Even with her husband by her side, she still finds herself battling against herself all the time and even questions at times whether she should be competing this week or not. 

“Physically I’m completely capable.  I’ve been an athlete my whole life.  You see a lower leg amputee doing incredible things and I have all my limbs and so I’m fighting a battle within myself on whether I should be here or not.  But then I realize it’s not always the external injuries, but the internal injuries as well that you can’t see.  You never know the person standing next to you and the things that they’ve gone through in life, so don’t underestimate them just because they’re not hurt on the outside.  That doesn’t mean their not fighting a battle on the inside.”

Winning the battle against herself, McCartney joined up to play with the Army’s sitting volleyball team and won a silver medal Thursday.  She’ll look to add to her collection Friday as she goes for gold in the pool.

“There’s no experience in the world like this,” said McCartney.  “How many times in your life can you say you played for the gold-medal match at the Olympic Training Center.  It’s just phenomenal. The thing here is to just show people how capable veterans are at accomplishing greatness no matter what their disability, injury or illness is -- whether it’s internal or external. Everyone has their own reason for being here and whether you pick up a new sport like volleyball or you come to do something you’ve done your entire life like swim, I think the opportunity is amazing.”