Can’t Keep Them Down

Three vet­er­ans do Texas proud in Par­a­lympic Games

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation & World -

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.




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