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This Veterans Day, Meet Five Of Team USA's Extraordinary Military Olympians and Paralympians

By Joshua Clayton and Sheridan Powell | Nov. 11, 2020, 9 a.m. (ET)

Samantha Tucker aims her modified bow at the target during a USA Archery event. 

 

From Melissa Stockwell to Dan Cnossen, some of Team USA’s biggest and brightest athletes have made sacrifices to serve the country they now represent at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  

Many athletes have served their country in the military prior to or even during their time as an elite athlete. Military Veterans have long been a large part of the Olympic and Paralympic Movement and the next summer’s games in Tokyo are yet another chance for them to perform on the biggest stage. 

To celebrate this Veterans Day, get to know five Team USA Veterans that have made an impact in and out of competition. 

Air Force & Army – Samantha Tucker, Paralympic Archery

Samantha “Sammi” Tucker was the first woman to represent Team USA in Paralympic compound archery at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, which was just her eleventh competition ever. But before she was making history on the Paralympic stage, she was traveling the world and serving her country.  

Tucker joined the Air Force in 1990 and was sent to Italy as an Air Force broadcaster.  

“It was a fantastic experience to go all over Europe and cover stories,” she explained. “It was the kind of news that I really liked because we talked about the good aspects of life: the good aspects of military life, of blending cultures and communities.”  

Tucker moved through various positions in both the Air Force and the Army throughout her career before she left following the motorcycle accident that claimed her left arm.  

“I’d only really known the military my whole adult life,” Tucker admitted. “So initially I didn’t know what to do.”  

Tucker began working with amputees at a prosthetist office in California, and it was there she was first introduced to archery. A patient one day asked her if she’d ever shot a bow, and from there it all happened quickly. He taught her to shoot a bow using her mouth, training her and taking her to competitions. In less than a year, Tucker qualified for the U.S. National Team and went on to compete at the Paralympic Games. 

“The Air Force really set me on a path to understanding intercultural communication and understanding that I’m more alike most people than different – I learned to focus on how alike we are and to work collectively towards a common goal,” Tucker said. “A lot of that is the same in the Paralympics – it's highly competitive and an elite group, but also incredibly supportive and like a giant group hug.”  

Sarah Beard takes aim. 

Army – Sarah Beard, Rifle Shooting 

 Sarah Beard took up shooting at the young age of 15, practicing in her family’s basement. Her father, William Beard, was a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Shooting Team and was her first introduction to the sport.  

“Growing up, I idolized my dad,” she said. “The Olympic movement being tangible, it kind of bred the mindset of having a goal or being so focused on something. (My parents) just really emphasized working hard on right now and what you're doing right now, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Beard was a four-time NCAA All-American and two-time NCAA Champion in both air and smallbore rifle shooting during her time competing for the Texas Christian University Women’s Rifle Team.

Now, in addition to training for the Olympics, Beard serves as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Beard wrote on her personal blog about the important skills she acquired during basic training camp and how they can be applied to her training and performance.

“I turned my focus more inward towards my sport and myself, and my skills started getting up there, I realized more what it meant to represent my country because of the effort and skill that it takes to do it,” she said.

She elaborated that while things like willpower and discipline are emphasized throughout training, discipline is the more important skill in terms of long-term results. Although Beard narrowly missed a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, she has her sights set on the Tokyo Games in 2021.

"I've always watched the Olympics growing up from the perspective of an American kid who’s really proud of their country, never thinking I'd would be able to represent it,” she said. “The military has given a lot to me and a lot of opportunities that I never would've had.”

Chris Devlin-Young skis his slalom run at the 2009 US Adaptive Alpine Nationals on April 2, 2009 in Winter Park, Colo.

Coast Guard – Chris Devlin-Young, Para Alpine Skiing 

 The five-time Paralympian made his first appearance at the Paralympic Winter Games Lillehammer 1994. He won gold in his first slalom and came back in 2002 to win gold in super G and silver in downhill as a monoskier in Salt Lake City. His performance at the 2002 Winter Games made him the first Paralympian to win a medal in two different disability classes. 

Devlin-Young was serving with the Coast Guard in Alaska in 1982 when his plane crashed, leaving him completely paralyzed from the knee down and partially paralyzed below the waist. After being introduced to skiing and racing through the Veterans Administration Winter Sports Clinic, he began coaching a race development camp for injured veterans.

Josh Misiewicz celebrates after the US Sled Hockey Team takes gold at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 18, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. 

Marine Corps – Josh Misiewicz, Sled Hockey 

Josh Misiewicz played Division III hockey for St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota before enlisting in the Marine Corps. He was serving with the 1st Battalion 5th Marines in Afghanistan when he was injured by an improvised explosive device while on patrol, resulting in the double amputation of his legs.

Following his injury, Misiewicz made his return to the ice when a close friend introduced him to sled hockey. Misiewicz spent three seasons playing with the USA Warriors Sled Hockey team before contributing to a gold medal at the 2015 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships, where the U.S. triumphed over Canada.

Just three short years later, the U.S. faced off against Canada once again, this time at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. After a dramatic final minute of regulation, the two teams took to overtime in the gold-medal match. Declan Farmer put the winning goal in the net with 11:30 left in overtime, and the defense was able to hold on.  

Although it was Misiewicz’s first Paralympic medal, the U.S. continued their dominance with their third consecutive gold performance. While no other country has been able to win more than one Paralympic gold since the sport debuted at the 1994 Games, the U.S. now has four.

John Kremer makes a diving save in the back row in a sitting volleyball match at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.

Navy – John Kremer, Sitting Volleyball

John Kremer went from serving his country as an explosive ordinance disposal technician in the U.S. Navy to representing his country as a libero for the U.S. sitting volleyball team at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.

Kremer was injured in Afghanistan in 2010 when he stepped on a land mine and lost both legs below the knee. A strong athlete before the accident, he tried several adaptive sports before landing on sitting volleyball.

“I think it's a great honor to be able to not just represent my country again, but be a presence for my country,” he said.

“In the military, no matter where you are in the world, everybody knows the U.S. military and now, when traveling with Team USA, everybody knows Team USA. It's pretty awesome to be a part of that.”

Kremer and the men’s sitting volleyball team were preparing for a qualifying tournament when COVID-19 forced a hold on all competition. He said having every branch of the military represented on the squad has helped team chemistry as they continue to train for Tokyo.

“It made things a little bit easier to get into the team knowing that, um, there was military guys that were there to back you up,” he said. “It's really cool to get to know the different guys throughout the team and see their background; what they did in the military. You have that camaraderie of being in the military and everybody picks on each different service.”

Related Athletes

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Samantha Tucker

Compound Archery
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Sarah Beard

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Chris Devlin-Young

Alpine Skiing
US Paralympics
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Josh Misiewicz

Sled Hockey
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John Kremer

Sitting Volleyball