Uprooted from service, Laura Root finds strength in sport

By Scottie Bibb | Oct. 03, 2014, 9:30 p.m. (ET)

It wasn't an injury suffered during a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan that ended Retired Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Laura Root’s military career. It was Muscular Dystrophy.

Root, from Norfolk, Virginia, was commissioned into the Navy in February, 2011. By December 2011 she received the diagnosis that would ultimately result in her medical retirement from the service.

“Because of my condition, I wasn't able to deploy,” she says. “So I opted for retirement.”

Root participated in the swimming, sitting volleyball and shooting events in this week's Warrior Games presented by Deloitte.

Held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and other facilities in Colorado Springs, Colorado, including Fort Carson and the United States Air Force Academy, the 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte is a competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans hosted by the United States Olympic Committee and supported by the Department of Defense, AT&T, BP, Dow, Semper Fi Fund, The Fisher House Foundation, The Daniels Fund and USO.

Approximately 200 athletes from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations will compete in seven sports through Oct. 3

Root began her career in the Navy with a passion for intelligence and languages, earning her master’s degree in International Relations from the American University of Paris. She is fluent in Turkish, French and German.

But it was sports, not academics, that gave her the solace she was looking for following her diagnosis.

She was approached by a representative from the Navy’s Wounded Warrior - Safe Harbor program, which is responsible for coordinating the non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors, Coast Guardsmen and their families.

Their focus on recovery and rehabilitation has enabled numerous service members to utilize adaptive sports as a crucial element of their recovery process.

Root participated in her first-ever Warrior Games in 2013, becoming the first woman to win a gold medal in the sport of shooting (Air Rifle Prone) at the event.

“It was great to be able to represent women in the military like that,” Root says. “I had a really great time on the range.”

Root is one of nearly 40 women representing the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations at the Warrior Games.

In addition to the shooting competition, Root also competed in the cycling and sitting volleyball events.

“Cycling was probably the most challenging course I've ever been on,” she says. “It was great to finish with a Marine Corp girl and a SoCom (Special Operations Command) girl.

“They really kept me alive on that course,” she laughs, “because it wasn't going so well for me!”

Root’s participation in the sitting volleyball competition had an outcome that was much more to her liking.

“It was our best year yet,” she says. “We've been practicing really hard and we took the gold medal last night.”

Root continued her medal-winning ways Friday, with a silver medal in the Air Rifle Prone competition.

Fellow sailor Sadie Strong captured gold from the event.

“I’m just so glad I got to be here again,” Root said, “and to be able to compete in the sport I love so much!”

Root has a special passion for shooting, which she believes is a wonderful athletic outlet for service members recovering from both physical injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“I think it’s really a great sport for rehabilitating vets,” she says. “It’s a place where we can calm ourselves and, basically ‘reclaim’ shooting.”

“A lot of veterans have traumatic injuries associated with shooting,” she continued. “So I think it’s a great sport for to be involved in, particularly for military adaptive sports.”

Root recently participated in the inaugural Invictus Games, which took place Sept. 10-14, in London, England, that saw more than 400 competitors from 13 countries competing in nine different adaptive sports.

Similar to the Warrior Games, the event uses sports to garner a wider understanding and respect of armed services members who serve their country.

Root, who took home two medals from the Invictus Games – a silver and a bronze in cycling - says the event in London was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“We had the opportunity to be ambassadors for our military’s adaptive sports,” Root says. “It was great to build those bonds with veterans worldwide.

“We now have lifelong friends that we can visit all over the world!”

Root looks forward to a long future in both adaptive and non-adaptive sports.

The idea of possibly competing at the Olympic or Paralympic level has also crossed her mind.

“I’d be interested at competing at the next level,” Root says. “But I’ve got some work to do before I get there!”

Away from athletics, Root is pursuing a writing career and has started a blog on Navy Live, the official blog site of the United States Navy.

She also plans to write a book about her time at the Warrior Games, and the network of Wounded Warriors and their experiences.

You can read Root’s blog here.

For more on the 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit teamusa.org/WarriorGames/.

Scottie Bibb is a writer from Colorado. She is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.