Can’t Keep Them Down
Three veterans do Texas proud in Paralympic Games
We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the burdens our military veterans carry home from far off battlefields. And that’s fair, as the wounds of war are real. But there is also something that is often too distant from such discussions. The military veterans we know carry something else that is more significant, which both inspires and humbles us. They carry with them a desire to live a life of meaning and purpose.
So it is with a special kind of joy and pride that we see three Texans who are military veterans among the 74 athletes now competing for the United States in the Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
These athletes — Andy Soule, Michael Spivey and Kirk Black — have been tested in ways most cannot imagine. Digging deep into the souls of their beings, they’ve each clawed their way back from catastrophic injury — and the similarly arduous obstacles to recovery — by mastering one measurable goal after another.
Now they find themselves competing on a world stage. The Texans are among 18 military veterans wearing Team USA colors.
While most of us can hardly imagine learning to walk again, many of these wounded warriors were competing at some level less than a year after their shattering injuries. Adaptive athletics helped them find a way back into the world, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Initially, the activities may simply have been a way to escape their hospital rooms. Over time, however, these men and women found that staying physically active helped them maintain the best possible state of mind during months, if not years, of exhausting rehab.
Not only have these athletes regained control of their lives, they serve as mentors and role models to others who face similar potentially debilitating injuries. Our veteran Paralympians provide hope where outsiders might see sorrow. They provide leadership where others can follow.
That leadership leaps off the page in reading the stories of the Texans on the team.
Soule, a 37-year-old originally from Houston, was standing in the back of an open-bed Humvee on an Afghanistan road in 2005 when an improvised explosive device went off, shattering both his legs just beneath his kneecaps.
This is the third Paralympics in the biathlon and cross-country skiing for Soule. He became the first U.S. biathlete to medal in the Paralympics when he took bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Spivey, a Marine Corps veteran who grew up in Abilene, also suffered injuries from an IED during his second Afghanistan deployment in 2010. He lost his left arm below the elbow and suffered shrapnel wounds to his back and legs.
Pyeongchang marks Spivey’s first Paralympics, where the 37-year-old is competing in both slalom and snowboard cross.
This year’s Paralympic Games are also the first for Black, an Army veteran and native Texan. A resident of San Antonio, he served in the Gulf War before turning his attention back to racing. A motocross accident in 2002 left him a paraplegic, but as he rehabilitated, he also gained a passion for curling.
Black is the Wheelchair Curling Team skip, similar to a captain, and at 48, takes a lot of ribbing as the “grandpa” on the squad.
Most of us have no understanding of the potentially devastating consequences of war. But we are confident in saying that to these athletes, every day they can compete is a good day. To go from “man down” to a chance at the medal platform, they’ve already won more than most can imagine.