Paralympian Soldier Pioneers Prosthesis, Hopes to Inspire Others
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
LONDON, Sept. 1, 2012 A sharpshooting Army sergeant who helped to usher in an innovative prosthesis that has helped countless wounded warriors has brought his sharp eye to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games here.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson, center, a member of the 2012 U.S. Paralympic shooting team, makes adjustments to his air rifle during a competitive round of shooting at the Royal Artillery Barracks in London, Sept. 1, 2012. DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson, a member of the 2012 Paralympic shooting team and of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit helped to develop an advanced prosthesis for wounded service members.
“[In] October 2003, I was wounded in Iraq by a rocket-propelled grenade during an ambush,” Olson said. “From there, I was medevaced to Landstuhl [Regional Medical Center in Germany], and I was there for about eight days.” After that, he said, he woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he spent about 18 months.
“In my stay at Walter Reed, there was an outdoor event every day in occupational therapy – shotgun shooting,” he said. “I went out and shot sporting clay one day. I hit my first 49 out of 50.”
Olson said his shooting acuity caught the attention of the program director at Walter Reed, who put in a call to the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., to see if a position was available for a competitive shooter or marksmanship instructor.
“I went down to Fort Benning from Walter Reed, had a tryout and was very successful,” Olson said. “[I] got along great with the coaches and the other shooters on the team.”
The Army sergeant said he was assigned to the marksmanship unit in June 2005 and “slowly, but surely, started shooting.”
“And I'm here today,” he added.
Olson noted that been many troops in his position have wished to stay in the military despite their injuries, but were unable to.
“There's a lot of guys that have been wounded that want to continue to serve,” he said. “I'm very blessed and very fortunate to be able to do that.
I hope I inspire, not even [just] wounded soldiers, but other soldiers,” he continued, “just to [let them know], 'Hey, you might be going through something tough, such as [post-traumatic stress], but if you work hard and give yourself goals to work on, it helps you get out of bed every day [and] helps you work hard and overcome things in your life.”
In discussing the origin of the “Olson Socket,” the Army sergeant is quick to note he didn't invent the prosthesis himself.
“I was just the first guy to wear it and help make it work,” Olson explained. “In late 2004, I went down to Orlando, Fla., where Prosthetics and Associates is, and [met] a gentleman by the name of Dennis Clark.”
“Those guys got together [with] myself and the actual designers, and originally drew it up on a bar napkin,” he revealed. “And we tried it out, and we put it together and made it work.”
Olson said as soon as he got back to Walter Reed with the prosthesis, officials there immediately began sending service members down to Florida to be fitted for the same prosthesis and socket system.
“I was very fortunate and very blessed they named it after me, but I just happened to be the first guy to ever have one,” he said.
Olson credited his military service for the discipline that got him here to compete in the Paralympic Games.
“Military service has prepared me for the Paralympics by teaching me determination, patience and just overall hard work,” he said. “My goal for the Paralympics is to be able to perform my best – to perform at the level I know I can. If I do that, I should be on the medal stand.”
The key to his success, Olson said, is practicing, staying focused and concentrating on the fundamentals of his sport.
“For me, my biggest challenge is the ability to stay focused during the entire match,” he said. “So I do some mental exercises, a lot of imagery and some visualization exercises. This sport is 95 percent mental and 5 percent physical.
“I've been training a long time for this,” he added. “There's really no shooting drill, no mental exercise or anything you can really do to prepare for actually sitting there.”
Olson’s next Paralympic Games shooting event is scheduled for Sept. 4 at the Royal Artillery Barracks.