Af­ter in­jury, war vet­eran turns to sport for re­cov­ery

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle - BY TOMA I STOMINA [email protected] Ukrainian vet­eran and ath­lete of Ukraine's team for the In­vic­tus Games Yurii Dmytrenko trains on the in­door rower at the Cen­tral Sports Club of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Kyiv in June. (In­vic­tus Games Team Ukrai

Last Oc­to­ber, 18 months af­ter a land­mine ex­plo­sion tore off part of his leg, war vet­eran Yurii Dmytrenko ran the 10-kilo­me­ter Ma­rine Corps Marathon in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Never hav­ing taken part in such sports event be­fore his in­jury, Dmytrenko, 24, started train­ing as part of his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. He now uses three leg pros­the­ses — one for run­ning, one for swim­ming and one for all other phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties.

Af­ter com­plet­ing his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, he con­tin­ued reg­u­lar train­ing, try­ing new sports and par­tic­i­pat­ing in mul­ti­ple com­pe­ti­tions for war veter­ans — the In­vic­tus Games, Ma­rine Corps Marathon and the Games of Heroes.

He says that at first, he thought there would be things that he wouldn’t be able to do, like run­ning or bar­bell squats. But he soon learned he was wrong.

“In a cou­ple of weeks (of train­ing) I re­al­ized that any­thing is pos­si­ble, and that I shouldn’t limit my­self,” Dmytrenko told the Kyiv Post.

He was 20 when he joined a vol­un­teer ex­pe­di­tionary bat­tal­ion af­ter grad­u­at­ing from a univer­sity in Poltava, a city some 340 kilo­me­ters east of Kyiv. He had been an ac­tive pro­tes­tor dur­ing the Euromaidan Revo­lu­tion, which forced for­mer Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych from power on Feb. 22, 2014, and Dmytrenko says that pro­tect­ing his coun­try af­ter Rus­sia launched its war in the east was “a log­i­cal con­tin­u­a­tion.”

Over one-and-a-half years of ser­vice, the vet­eran fought all along the front­line both in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Af­ter he was in­jured in March 2016, Dmytrenko was hos­pi­tal­ized in a Mar­i­upol clinic. There, the doc­tors had to am­pu­tate part of his left leg.

He was later trans­ferred to Kyiv, where he went through re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. It was there where he found out about the up­com­ing Games of Heroes, an in­ter­na­tional sports com­pe­ti­tion for war veter­ans and other peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties held in Kyiv.

Dmytrenko started in­ten­sive train­ing to com­pete at the Games of Heroes, qual­i­fied for the fi­nal in De­cem­ber 2016, and took sec­ond place in the CrossFit cat­e­gory — a com­bi­na­tion of weightlift­ing, row­ing, and other fit­ness regimes.

As he be­came in­volved in more sports projects, the vet­eran de­cided to stay in Kyiv rather than move back to Poltava. He first tried work­ing in IT, but even­tu­ally set­tled in a job at the pub­lic re­la­tions depart­ment of Ukraine’s Pa­trol Po­lice. He says that he “needed some so­cially use­ful job.”

Discipline and lazi­ness

Dmytrenko says that sport not only helped him to re­cover phys­i­cally, but also main­tains his feel­ing of well­be­ing.

“I feel the whole range of plea­sures that sport gives.”

He also be­lieves that sport helped him to de­velop self-discipline and in­flu­ences him pos­i­tively at the men­tal level.

“It pro­vides a psy­cho­log­i­cal re­lief. When I don’t train for a week I’m al­ways in a bad mood,” he says.

Apart from that, the vet­eran says that sports and com­pe­ti­tions, in par­tic­u­lar, get his adren­a­line go­ing — he be­lieves it’s im­por­tant for veter­ans to find an ac­tiv­ity to re­place the adren­a­line rushes they ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the war.

Dmytrenko says that train­ing with a pros­the­sis is pretty much the same as reg­u­lar train­ing, ex­cept that some ex­er­cises might take him longer to adapt to.

“I can’t say it’s more difficult. It’s just dif­fer­ent.”

And the vet­eran’s pos­i­tive at­ti­tude helps him see no unattain­able goals.

Just three months af­ter re­ceiv­ing his pros­the­sis for run­ning, Dmytrenko, along with nine other Ukraini­ans, went to Wash­ing­ton D. C. in the United States to run in the Ma­rine Corps Marathon, an an­nual event aimed to pro­mote phys­i­cal fit­ness and sup­port veter­ans.

He fin­ished the 10-kilo­me­ter-dis­tance in 70 min­utes.

“Around 2,500 par­tic­i­pants fin­ished faster, but I was faster than around 3,500 run­ners. And that’s good,” he says.

How­ever, just like any­one else, Dmytrenko some­times finds it hard to mo­ti­vate him­self to go to the gym. As he is not a pro­fes­sional ath­lete, he says at these times he fol­lows his in­stincts and gets some rest.

“I buy a cake and lie down at home,” he jokes. “But that gets bor­ing too, and then you have to find the mo­ti­va­tion to keep on ly­ing about at home and eat­ing cake.”

That’s when the vet­eran gets back to train­ing.

Un­con­quered ath­lete

Last year, Dmytrenko qual­i­fied for Ukraine’s re­serve team at the In­vic­tus (Latin for “un­con­quered”) Games, an in­ter­na­tional multi-sport event for veter­ans, in­clud­ing those that have suf­fered life-chang­ing in­juries. The event was launched by Bri­tain’s Prince Harry, a for­mer sol­dier who served two tours in Afghanista­n.

As part of the re­serve team, Dmytrenko didn’t get to par­tic­i­pate in the of­fi­cial com­pe­ti­tions. How­ever, he says that vis­it­ing the In­vic­tus Games, held in Septem­ber 2017 in Toronto, Canada, was a great ex­pe­ri­ence.

He said that the at­mos­phere was very friendly and there was no com­pet­i­tive­ness, ex­cept for on the sports field.

“Ev­ery­one talks to each other dur­ing train­ing, and by the time com­pe­ti­tion starts, ev­ery­one knows each other.”

A to­tal of 550 ath­letes from 17 coun­tries at­tended the In­vic­tus Games last year, and Dmytrenko said they all be­came friends, as they share some very sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences.

“We had the same prob­lems dur­ing the fight­ing, and we have the same prob­lems af­ter be­ing in­jured,” he said.

This year, Dmytrenko qual­i­fied to par­tic­i­pate in five kinds of sport at the In­vic­tus Games in­clud­ing in­door row­ing, shot put, swim­ming, run­ning and the long jump.

The com­pe­ti­tion will take place on Oc­to­ber 20–27 in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, and Dmytrenko is now train­ing five times a week to get ready for the up­com­ing event.

The vet­eran says that he will never quit do­ing sports, as it was his way to re­cover, and he loves it and needs it in his life. Nev­er­the­less, he be­lieves not all the veter­ans have to get in­volved in sports — the main thing is for them to find an ac­tiv­ity to put an ef­fort into, which will help them re­turn to reg­u­lar life.

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