Iraq Vet Recovers From Injury to Compete in Warrior Games
By Army Sgt. Victor J. Ayala
Army News Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 15, 2013 Warrior Games athlete Randall "Blake" McMinn remembers that during his Army career, he was taught to leave behind the possibility of failure and the temptation of quitting.
Army veteran Randall “Blake” McMinn from Linden, Texas, is competing in the cycling, swimming, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball events at the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. More than 200 wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans from across the Defense Department and United Kingdom are competing in track and field, sitting volleyball, shooting, swimming, archery, cycling and wheelchair basketball events. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Victor J. Ayala
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That crucial lesson sticks with McMinn now, nearly seven years after his medical retirement. Today, he continues to live with the limitations imposed upon him by the wounds of war, but he is competing again this year in the 2013 Warrior Games here.
Despite amputation of his right leg below the knee, a series of painful reconstructive surgeries on his left foot, and constant neck and back pain, McMinn is representing the Army in the games for the third straight year. From his traumatic injury in Iraq to his recovery and participation in the games, the Linden, Texas, native never gave up and has no plans to slow down now.
McMinn's Army career was cut short when an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq crippled the vehicle he was driving and nearly killed him. Immediately after the blast, McMinn put out a fire on the right side of his body and lifted himself out of the vehicle and onto the ground. It was when he tried to move his right leg that he saw just how bad his condition was. After that, he said, the memories run together.
"I remember them giving me morphine and one of the guys giving me a can of Copenhagen saying I'd need it more than he did," McMinn said. "Next thing, I woke up in a hospital bed with the amputation."
McMinn returned to the United States, where he underwent therapy and reconstructive surgery at the Center for the Intrepid in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He recalled that he found himself in a dark place at first. When he left Iraq in December of 2007, he weighed 185 pounds. He weighed roughly 120 pounds a mere two months later.
"It was bad," McMinn said. "But I saw guys with double amputations, and guys missing arms and eyes. They were getting out and staying active. It really inspired me."
McMinn was medically retired in November 2008, and by 2009 had moved to Las Vegas, where he first encountered the adaptive sport of wheelchair basketball.
With the inspiration of fellow wounded warriors fresh in his mind, he started playing for a team called the Silver Bandits and became hooked, he said. He later played for the University of Texas at Arlington and practiced with the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks. Military veterans on the Mavericks brought the Warrior Games to his attention, and he's been representing the Army ever since.
McMinn credits a large amount of his recovery to the Warrior Games and adaptive sports in particular.
"Attending the Warrior Games in past years has given me an appreciation for being active despite my injuries and has been therapeutic by helping me to connect with those who share similar experiences," he said.
At this year's games, McMinn is competing in the cycling, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball events.