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Adaptive Sports Inspire Wounded Veteran

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

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2010 – Wounded military members struggle with an endless set of challenges in overcoming their physical and mental disabilities. And no one may understand what it takes to get past those hurdles better than Army veteran John Register.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
John Register, associate director of community and military programs for the U.S. Paralympics Committee, speaks at a Pentagon news conference Jan. 7, 2010. DoD photo by R.D. Ward
  

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

Ironically, Register’s left leg was amputated in 1994 following an accident in which he jumped across a hurdle. A member of the Army’s World Class Athlete program, he landed wrong and dislocated his knee while training for a track and field event.

Register now directs the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympics military programs for disabled veterans. He was in the Pentagon yesterday to help the Defense Department and U.S. Olympic Committee announce the inaugural Warrior Games, which will take place May 10-14 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Gulf War veteran attests that overcoming his disability was difficult, but the power of sports helped him to discover a newfound sense of “liberation” through Paralympics sports and competition. He said he believes the Warrior Games and adaptive sports rehabilitation can have the same positive effect on others.

“The inaugural games, the Warrior Games, will be a great event,” Register said. “But I think that the greatest thing that’s going to come from this is the impact that will happen after the games are over, the legacies that will be left in the communities when the people return home to share their experiences.”

The Paralympics division of the U.S. Olympic Committee has been working with wounded veterans since 2003 to enhance their lives through sports. Many military members dealing with amputations, loss of limb function and even traumatic brain injury have garnered a second chance at life, using sports to build confidence and self esteem, said Register, a two-time Paralympian and silver medalist.

Sports were a very important part of Register’s life. He was a collegiate all-American and a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program in track and field. But for a short time, all of that changed. His six-year Army career ended along with his Olympic dreams the day he decided to let the doctors amputate his leg.

“I was faced with a choice: either to keep my limb and use a walker or wheelchair or some other type of assistive device to get around for my mobility, or to undertake an amputation,” he said. “I chose amputation, and when I did so, my life immediately changed.”

Register began swimming and was fortunate enough to reach the world-class level again. He competed in the 1996 Paralympics Games, and two years later began running and competing once again in the long jump. He won his silver medal in the games in Sydney, Australia.

“Through faith and family and sport -- especially sport, and Paralympics sport -- I really found the liberation of freedom, so to speak, as I once enjoyed life as I knew it,” he said.

As the associate director for community and military programs for the Paralympics, Register now focuses on helping other disabled veterans realize their potential. He said he hopes to help all wounded veterans realize that just because they’re disabled, they’re not incapable.

“No matter how we come to our life-defining moments in time, we have a choice in which we can move forward,” he said. “We can either choose to settle into our setbacks, or we can soar forward knowing that we have those support networks and support groups around us that can help us get to and get back to those active lifestyles that we once enjoyed before we were injured.”

Adaptive sports also provide an opportunity for recovered veterans to give back to newly injured troops. Athletes often participate in their communities and at veterans hospitals as mentors and role models, sharing their experiences and helping those who are less optimistic about their disabilities.

“Through sports, we begin to carve a new path in their lives by allowing the servicemember to see their continued value to society and regain an active lifestyle, whether that's with their family or friends or their military or civilian communities,” he said. “Sports really does make a difference.

“Yes, it was the platform for me,” he continued, “but I can do anything I want to now, because … I've found myself again. And when I've found myself again, I can get back and engage into life.”

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Related Sites:
U.S. Paralympics Committee

Related Articles:
Wounded Vets to Participate in First Warrior Games



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