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Wounded Veterans Find Therapy in Sports Clinic

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2009 – More than 60 wounded veterans suffering disabilities ranging from post-traumatic stress to amputations are learning “to live again” this week through competition at the 2nd Annual National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego.

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Stephen Bruggman, right, and Sam Jones, both wounded military veterans, maneuver their sailboat during the Department of Veterans Affairs 2nd Annual Summer Sports Clinic Sept. 20, 2009, in San Diego. More than 65 veterans suffering disabilities ranging from post-traumatic stress to physical amputations are participating in the weeklong event. Photo courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The clinic is sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and features surfing, cycling, sailing, kayaking and track and field events. It began Sept. 20 and goes through tomorrow.

Veterans are experiencing the value of recreational therapy, many of whom haven’t been physically active since they were injured.

“For the longest time after my injury, I was kind of homebound, not doing anything recreational,” said Marc Lavigne, a 32-year-old Army veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury. “The clinic is really teaching me to get out there and live again and really enjoy life.”

Lavigne is unable to work and receives 100 percent disability compensation from VA. He was injured performing maintenance on a vehicle while he was stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., in 1999. He was knocked unconscious when the jack-stand supporting the vehicle gave way.

His recreational therapist at the San Diego VA recommended the clinic to him. Lavigne, a former high school swim team captain, became more excited than he’d been in years, he said.

“It’s really a blast,” he said. “I never pictured myself surfing, and it was one of the best times I’ve ever had. Competing here really does show that I can get out there and do things; it might take a little more work than it used to, but I now know I can.”

Kevin McCoy, a 39-year-old Army veteran suffering from combat-related mental and physical injuries shares Lavigne’s enthusiasm. He’s been looking forward to the competition for the past six months, he said.

McCoy has had several surgeries on both of his ankles due to an accident he had repelling out of a helicopter while deployed to Bosnia. McCoy once loved to run, he said, and before participating in the clinic, hadn’t done so since April 3, 2006. He ran five miles that day and had his first ankle surgery the next. He hasn’t been physically active since.

“The last time I ran was the day before my first surgery, and to be able to have my heart rate going and my blood flowing again was just great,” he said. “I feel like we can do anything now.”

The clinic also provides veterans with a chance to share their stories and experiences. Competition and esprit de corps goes a long way toward recovery, McCoy said, adding that the camaraderie he once felt as an Army sniper and cavalry scout is something he misses in his new life as veteran and college student.

The opportunity to bond with other veterans and learn their struggles has given him a new sense of motivation to confront and overcome his disabilities, he said.

“The competition is great and being a former scout, we were always on the edge and pushed our bodies to the limit, so to be out here with other folks with disabilities, and to be able to have that competitiveness and esprit de corps back makes a huge difference in our attitudes,” he said.

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Department of Veterans Affairs

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarc Lavigne, a wounded Army veteran, surfs for the first time during the Department of Veterans Affairs 2nd Annual Summer Sports Clinic Sept. 20, 2009, in San Diego. More than 65 veterans suffering disabilities ranging from post-traumatic stress to physical amputations are participating in the weeklong event. Photo courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageWounded veterans compete in a cycling event Sept. 20, 2009, in San Diego as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs 2nd Annual Summer Sports Clinic. More than 65 veterans suffering disabilities ranging from post-traumatic stress to physical amputations are participating in the weeklong event. Photo courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs  
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