Warriors come in all forms

By Brian Hightower | May 04, 2012, 8 a.m. (ET)

A quick glance around the 2012 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, and one notices male athletes. Lots of really motivational, exceptionally talented male athletes. But wait. There are some female athletes, too. Nowhere near as many, but they are here and their numbers are growing.  The spirit of this event pulses through all of the participants at the Games, and as the women here are proving, true warriors come in many forms.

Take Jeannette Tarqueno, a last minute replacement to the  Navy’s team for ths year’s Games. This gunner’s mate jumped at the chance to compete, apparently forgetting that she didn’t really know how to ride a bike. Actually, as recently as this January, she didn’t really know how to walk.

Last December while operating in the Persian Gulf aboard the cruiser USS Port Royal, GM1 Tarqueno was accidentally struck in the head by an armor-plated steel brace. With one hand to control the bleeding from her skull and one hand on a ladder rung to keep her from falling to an even more catastrophic injury, Tarqueno fought to stay conscious, a fight that she won just long enough for help to arrive. It would be the first of many battles ahead.

After a month in a hospital bed, she began walking again. The effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) are extensive and severe, and can be enduring.  So at times she is still wobbly, but she’s definitely walking.  And talking.  Apparently stringing sentences together is a new phenomenon for her as well, though you’d never know by talking to her.  And, yes, she’s riding a bike!On Tuesday, this soft-spoken Chicagoan clipped into her pedals for a road bike race. Keep in mind that last week, a road bike was not among the list of machines she was capable of operating! It is also worth mentioning that among the common symptoms of TBI are dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, and lack of balance.  So why take a ride on half-inch rubber tires? Jeannette’s answer, “To feel normal again.”

And ride she did, into a fourth-place finish. She might as well have won the gold.  “I finished!” she said, radiating enthusiasm.  “I pushed harder than I’ve ever pushed before.” 

Then there’s Judi Boyce. In the first Warrior Games in 2010, Judi may have left a small hole in the side of the Olympic Training Center field house.  Much to the surprise of spectators and judges of the day’s archery competition, the petite Navy cook pulled back the string of her borrowed recurve bow and launched an arrow that not only missed the entire target, but pierced a distant exit sign and then bounced off of the wall behind it. Few could blame her, as she was still listing from her recent brain surgery.

To say that Judi Boyce is one in a million is not quite accurate. She’s more rare than that. Statistically she is closer to one in three million. That is the probability that someone will get diagnosed with Moyamoya disease, a cerebrovascular disorder that constricts blood vessels in the brain and induces strokes. Just after she enlisted and before the age of 20, she had a stroke was diagnosed with the rare condition, and began a most uncertain path. 

But true to the spirit of these Warrior Games, Boyce remains undaunted. Since the “exit sign incident” of 2010, she has competed in both subsequent years. Last year she was allowed to participate even though she had just undergone her second brain surgery. Let’s just say that her aim got better.   

In this year’s Warrior Games,Team Navy had been kept off of the podium for all of opening day. However, they finally medaled during the last awards ceremony on Day 2 for recurve bow team archery. Beaming on the podium and wearing bronze was Seaman Judith Mae Boyce.