Just over five years ago, a vicious assault while working undercover as an investigator with the New York State Police changed my life forever. The incident left me with a permanent disability to my right arm and deep wounds that aren't visible to the human eye.
It is extremely gratifying looking back on this past race season and my first year racing with the elite athletes on the ITU paratriathlon series. I'm very blessed to be on this stage representing the United States and wearing the uniform with the stars and stripes of red, white and blue.
Several years ago while I was undergoing physical therapy for my injury, the realization that my arm was losing range of motion and my career was slowly coming to an end caused me to hit rock bottom. I was damaged both physically and mentally.
I still recall several times while driving into work on light duty that I became suddenly enraged with anger, frustration and desperation. I would accelerate my car recklessly, contemplating smashing into a bridge on the interstate. I felt damaged and useless. Psychologically, it destroyed me because I felt like I lost the battle. The bad guy went to jail, and I went home safe to my family. In my mind, everything should have been okay.
The seemingly endless onslaught of guilt would not stop. I convinced myself that I was out of shape, and I should have been able to handle this altercation like I did many times prior. But this was different.
Nightmares of people grabbing me would not stop. I slowly spiraled into a depression, complete with random outbreaks of crying. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder were slowly consuming me. I stoically tried to hide a lot of my suffering from my family.
Then one day, after my wife convinced me I had to do something, I picked up the phone and asked for help. It was absolutely the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, but fortunately this was the outlet that I needed to start the road to healing. This also led to determining some traumatic issues that were hidden after serving in the military for over 20 years.
A turning point in my healing came with coming to terms with what was happening to me and why it was happening. After a year or so of being in a dark place, I started accepting my disability while trying to manage my mental illness.
One afternoon I was home surfing the internet, researching how I could swim with just one arm. I gave myself a goal that I wanted to compete in something that was going to be the hardest thing imaginable. I wanted to do a triathlon. An image of an amputee holding a bike wearing a USA uniform appeared on my computer. The second I saw that image I was sold. I thought if that young girl can do that sport with one leg then I can do the same thing with one arm.
After reaching out to an adaptive sport program at Penn State, the director pointed me to the Chicago area because she thought they had a paratriathlon organization there. A few calls later and I was talking to Director Keri Serota of Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. She invited me to her club’s upcoming camp, and I signed up immediately.
That's all it took.
The camp came and went, and I was 100 percent sold on paratriathlon. I soon realized that this was the mechanism that was helping me manage my daily life and gave me the inspiration I needed to get up everyday and set new goals and aspirations. I was slowly emerging from the darkness through discovering this new sport. Even more exciting, unbeknownst to me the co-founder of Dare2tri was the young amputee Melissa Stockwell who I saw on the computer when I was searching around. Now I am very honored to call her a friend.
This new sport, which I was totally consumed in, was my chance at one thing that was eating away at my heart over the last couple years. That was wearing a uniform. Representing the country that I loved. At 18 years old, I joined the military. Now in my 40s, I was retired on disability from the New York State Police, and I already served 21 years in the military. For the first time in a couple of decades, I felt I no longer had an identity. I was no longer wearing an American flag on my uniform, representing what I loved.
So now I had the task of working hard to compete at a level that would earn me the privilege of wearing a uniform representing the red, white and blue. Wearing the letters USA means everything to me. I cherish every second I can represent my country. This new mission I have and this structure in the sport of triathlon has made a huge difference in my life. I really don't know what frame of mind I would be in right now if it wasn't for Dare2tri and USA Paratriathlon.
Some of us are fortunate to have found a spark and a small moment of hope — the hope to push through a devastating time in our lives and to keep fighting to try to find a purpose. When we slowly find direction and get back on course, we can never forget those who still remain lost and off course. If I can offer a spark, no matter how small, to anyone who is suffering, I am giving back the same way I was brought back on course.
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