MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., June 28, 2015 —
Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Austin Reese earned a gold medal in the men’s 50-freestyle and a silver medal in the 100-freestyle in classification 1.0-3.0 during the swimming competition at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Va., yesterday as part of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games.
He earned his first silver medal here June 21 in the hand cycle event, and he said he couldn’t have earned any of his medals without the support of his family.
“It was great sitting at the starting line and hearing my daughter yelling, ‘Let’s go, Daddy!’” Austin said. “There was so much positive energy and excitement when I was coming around the corner as I saw my mom and cousins there. It was awesome.”
His family showed up in force to support him at his cycling event, as well as at the seated shot put and discus competitions, and they were present yesterday at his swimming competition. “We came out to support him and let him know that we’re behind him all the way,” said Reese’s wife of nine years, Charity.
Austin missed trying out this year’s Navy team, because his now-3-month-old daughter, Aspen, was due the week of the trials. He said his showing at last year’s trials probably helped his chances on making the team this year.
Austin said he joined the Navy because he wanted to do something a little different and found out about the explosive ordnance disposal career field. He was only going to do his four-year hitch, he said, but he loved his job and will mark 14 years of service in July at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia.
When Austin wasn’t conducting his EOD duties, he taught sailors how to free-fall jump into tactical situations. In September 2013, with more than 2,000 skydiving jumps under his belt, Reese was conducting instructor development training for the military when he made a miscalculation of his altitude and hit about the ground at 75 to 80 mph. He has a permanent L-2 and complete spinal cord injury.
Charity said her husband is the same person now that he was before his injury. “There’s nothing different about him, except that he happens to have wheels attached to him now,” she said. “He just has a different way to get around now. He’s still the same him.”
Austin said his family helped him through some dark times as he recovered.
“My wife and my oldest daughter have been the biggest factor in my recovery,” he said of his wife and daughter, Nadia, 4. “If they weren’t there, I would’ve been in some pretty bad places. “I can’t thank my wife enough -- my immediate family, my wife and daughter -- [for] how patient and how great they’ve been for me and for helping me out. Wounded warriors need a support network. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help or to talk to people. It’s the best thing that you can do to get a good support system after any type of injury.”
Charity said Austin has an extra wheelchair, and he and Nadia race each other. “She rides in it, and they race. It’s pretty fun,” she said. “His lap is her favorite place to ride.”
Austin said it was hard for him to find joy initially, because he enjoyed skydiving so much. “My whole life revolved around jumping out of an airplane, and to take that away so quickly, I’m still on that path of finding what I really like and what really makes me excited,” he said.
He first found out about adaptive sports late at night while he was searching the Internet, he said. He had his recovery care coordinator sign him up, and he got clearance from his doctors. Austin said he’s enjoyed his first Warrior Games and the camaraderie he’s experienced here.
“I love how we look at each other like family,” he said. “You could see somebody with missing legs or in a wheelchair or walking completely normal, and nobody judges you. It’s just, ‘Hey, how’s it going? Good luck in whatever sporting event you’re in.’ I would love to see these games stick around for the long haul.”
Charity said she can see the positive changes the Warrior Games have made in Austin. “They’re such a huge benefit for him emotionally, physically and mentally,” she said. “They give him something to really look forward to, and people to connect with that have those same types of injuries or issues to work through. I’ve seen a huge change in him. It’s just amazing to refocus him and let him know there’s lots of fun still to be had and lots of things to do and to focus on.”
Asking for Help
Austin recommends that wounded warriors who are still in that dark place of recovery should find a good support system and to ask for help.
“If you ask for help, people will go a thousand steps, and if they need to go a thousand more, they’re going to do it for you,” he said. “They’re going to help you out, because they want to see our military members who have been wounded or injured or whatever succeed, and they want to see them do other things that they want to do. Just look and ask. It never hurts to ask. The only thing they can say is no.”