May 24, 2009 | 10 comments

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(Here’s my AF basic training pic -circa 1980 - I’m in the front row with the big cheesy smile next to our drill instructor.)

Once again, Memorial Day celebrations will occur all over the nation on Monday marking a holiday that dates back to the late 1800s. There will be moments honoring fallen soldiers and celebrations commemorating a long history of many individuals who demonstrated personal sacrifice and commitment for the country. I’m a military veteran who gave 10 years of service in the Air Force, so this is a day that I always pause and reflect about my time in the military and to think about others who chose to serve in the armed forces.

Last Thursday I presented at the National Patient Safety Foundation conference in DC. The event was attended by hospital administrators from all over the country and some were from military hospitals. I had an opportunity to have several brief and pointed conversations with many of the personnel responsible for caring for the recovery of wounded military members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They all shared stories about the positive impact sports is having on the military men and women recovering from their wounds and injuries suffered in combat.

Their power of sport stories reminded me of my time in the service and it took me immediately to my time playing sports, soccer in particular, at the Air Force bases and Army posts where I was stationed during my 10 years. Sports created a great deal of esprit de corps for everyone. It was a great way to blow off steam, have a good time and be connected to our love for any game or sport no matter where we were stationed. As I was remembering my experiences with MWR programs (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) and how vital having a sports outlet was for me, I remembered some great stories I had recently read about men and women in the service today who are dealing with war-related, life-altering injuries and how sports are being used as part of their rehabilitation protocol.

So, I thought it would be fitting and appropriate to share some of stories about how sports are being used in a positive way for the men and women of the armed forces. Many soldiers, airmen and Marines credit sports with giving them much needed motivation to cope with their severe injuries sustained in battle. Many soldiers, airmen and Marines have been able to continue to enjoy their love of sport and play as part of the partnership between the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project and Disabled Sports USA and the Paralympic program.

Checkout some of the powerful ways that sports is being used as a “healing” catalyst for our wounded warriors below:

Fresh contenders for Paralympics—The Denver Post
“As much as 15 percent of the U.S. Paralympic team will be drawn from the 31,000 men and women disabled by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Cowboy-Soldier launches Wounded Warrior Sports Program—Army MWR
“Las Cruces, N.M.—Purple Heart recipient Spc. Jake Lowery officially launched the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Sports Program with an inspirational team-roping performance at Denny Calhoun Arena on May 10-11.

Lowery, 26, of Fort Richardson, Alaska, lost his right eye and sustained massive head injuries when he was hit by an improvised explosive device that killed a fellow Soldier in Fallujah, Iraq, on Feb. 11, 2007.”

California Surfing!—Challenge Magazine, a publication of the Disabled Sports USA in partnership with Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Program.
“WWDSP partnered with the Naval Medical Center San Diego and Brooke Army Medical Center to offer a unique surfing experience. The Billabong Surf School, along with many other supporters such as Surfing Magazine, provided an incredible experience at Trestles Beach on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base.

More than a dozen patients were joined by their family and medical support staff to hit the beach and enjoy a weekend of relaxation and trying to catch the perfect wave. Surfers were offered tuition and inspiration by South African surfing champion Shaun White. BAMC patient Staff Sgt. Justin Lynn said of his experiences, â??Surfing all weekend really made the rehab progress. All around a great weekend. Thanks!’”

Wounded vet plays lacrosse after losing limbs (There’s great video, too.)—NBC Sports
“April 29, 2008: Five years ago, Lt. John Fernandez lost both his lower legs to friendly fire in Iraq. Today, he’s playing lacrosse and is hoping to inspire other wounded warriors.” 

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