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Biathlon Provides ‘Blood, Sweat, Toil, Triumph’ for Wounded Servicemembers

By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2006 – On Jan. 17, 2005, Army Cpl. Derrick Harden’s world seemed to come to a screeching halt in Ramadi, Iraq. “I was blown up by a car bomb, and then shot in the left arm and left leg,” Harden said.

Just four months later, he was paddling a kayak for the first time as he recovered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. “It’s fun,” he said. “It’s good therapy. It’s pretty easy to learn.”

Then, just six months after he checked into Walter Reed, Harden was involved in a horrible traffic accident. “I shattered my left leg,” he said.

Despite the adversity, Harden and many other servicemembers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan braved cold, wind and downpours to compete in the 2006 “Blood Sweat, Toil and Triumph Run-Kayak Biathlon” here Nov. 12. Competing either alone or in pairs, athletes covered four miles along the rain-slick Capital Crescent trail, then paddled a mile in the choppy Potomac River.

The event raised thousands of dollars for Team River Runner. The all-volunteer organization works in partnership with The Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled Sports USA to help veterans recuperating at Walter Reed to find “health, healing, and new challenges through whitewater boating.”

Retired Navy SEAL Mark Kasel traveled all the way from California to lend emotional and financial support to the event. His company, Select Build, donated $12,000 to Team River Runner. Kasel said he was impressed by the courage and humor with which the wounded servicemembers approached their biathlon.

“One of the guys who has an artificial leg, he’s just out there laughing,” Kasel said. “He’s like, ‘Geez, glad my feet aren’t cold.’”

Army Staff Sgt. Lee McMahon was the only television reporter invited to cover Blood, Sweat, Tears and Triumph. She followed athletes with a camera to document their efforts for the Pentagon Channel’s signature newscast, “Around the Services.” Her reports also will be available via podcast, vodcast and video on demand.

“You’re just overwhelmed by the enthusiasm,” said McMahon. “I’m in awe of them.” She also remarked on the humor exhibited by the wounded athletes as they pushed through the horrendous weather.

“This is just the way they deal,” she said, “by making sure people don’t feel bad for them.”

Meanwhile, Harden and his racing partner, Woody Mornini, were having a very good day. They went on to finish first overall in the “adapted” team division.

“It’s not a matter of giving up,” Harden said. “It’s a matter of winning.”

(David Mays is assigned to the Pentagon Channel.)

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