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Sailor to Pursue Gold Medals in Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games

By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2008 – Four years after he became the first active-duty servicemember to compete for the United States at the Paralympic Games, a sailor assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego will compete again next month for gold in track and field.

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Casey Tibbs, an interpretive cryptologic technician, competed in Athens, Greece, in 2004 and soon will be heading to Beijing for this year’s Paralympic Games.

"I'm just ready to go there and have fun, and that's what I'm going to do, Tibbs said during an Aug. 13 teleconference with bloggers. “And, I really can't wait to go out there and represent the United States, … the United States Navy, as well, and the whole military."

Tibbs -- who lost his right leg in a 2001 motorcycle accident -- will compete in the track and field pentathlon, 200-meter race, 400-meter race, and long jump. To prepare for the 2008 Paralympic Games, Tibbs said, he has spent an average of 30 to 35 hours per week training at the San Diego Olympic Center near his duty station.

Sitting in the medical center’s prosthetics lab during the teleconference, Tibbs explained that, as a peer mentor there, he advises wounded servicemembers to take one day at a time, cautions them not to overdo their rehabilitation in the beginning, and helps them realize that things are going to get better.

“And that's what I tell them at the beginning, because sometimes … they can hear it from a doctor, they can hear it from their family, but when they hear it from somebody who has actually sat in a hospital bed and gone from a hospital bed to an Olympic podium, it gives them a lot more hope,” Tibbs said.

Tibbs had been in the Navy for nearly two years before he lost his leg. Just two and a half months later, he ran 400 meters in two and a half minutes, he said.

“I remember doing it, and it was probably the hardest run I've ever done in my life,” he admitted. “But after that day, I was able to progress a lot more. And now I can run 400 meters in 53 seconds.”

Three years later, his hard work and training paid off, earning him a trip to compete in Athens.

“I stayed on active duty [and] went to the games in 2004. I won a gold medal and a silver medal -- a gold medal in the 4 x 100 relay, and a silver in the men's pentathlon, setting a new American record,” Tibbs said. “[I] then went to 2006 world championships. I … won my first gold medal in the individual pentathlon, and now I've qualified for the 2008 games, where I'm going to be competing in the pentathlon, the 200 meters, the long jump and the 400 meters, and, hopefully, the relay again.”

Tibbs said that before he lost his leg, he never imagined he would participate in the Olympics.

“The whole Olympic … dream really didn't start until after I lost my leg,” he said. “I was 22 years old, or 23, when I started thinking, ‘Hey, I could go to the Paralympic Games.’ That's really when my dream started.”

As Tibbs prepares for his departure for the 2008 Paralympics he reflected on the hero who helped him attain his Olympic dream: his coach, Joaquim Cruz, an Olympian from Brazil. Cruz won the gold medal in 1984 in the 800 meters as his country’s only gold medalist in track and field.

“He ran 1:41 in the 800 meters, and he's one of three people to ever do that in history of all sports, period,” Tibbs noted. “And he's definitely an inspiration to me, so he's definitely one of my Olympic heroes.”

Tibbs added that competing in the 2008 Paralympics is not about winning a gold medal or being the first-place finisher. “It's about just getting back to your life and competing in sports and just playing sports,” he said. “It's a huge part of rehabilitation.”

The opening ceremonies for the 2008 Paralympic Games are scheduled for Sept. 6, with competition officially starting Sept. 9.

(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media Directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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