Adaptive Sports Give Wounded Warriors Confidence
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 22, 2010 At next month’s inaugural Warrior Games, retired Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tim Lang plans to showcase more than his shooting skills and athletic ability on the wheelchair basketball court.
Retired Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tim Lang, a below-the-right-knee amputee and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., shoots a basketball during a wheelchair basketball practice April 13, 2010. Lang and others recovering at Walter Reed are training for the inaugural Warrior Games May 10-14 in Colorado Springs, Colo. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Lang said he also wants to show other disabled veterans -- and the nation, for that matter -- the importance of keeping a good, positive attitude, finding things to enjoy and moving on with your life.
The 24-year-old native of Ann Arbor, Mich., said those with physical disabilities can be their own worst enemies. The sooner they can accept their disabilities, he said, the sooner they can realize their potential.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself,” said Lang, who lost a portion of his right leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. “Bad things have happened, but you have to get over that and learn that you’re capable of doing anything you want -- just maybe in a different way.”
Lang is one of some 200 wounded active-duty members and military veterans selected to represent the disabled veteran community at the Warrior Games May 10-14 at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The games will feature Paralympic-style competition for some of the most athletic and optimistic disabled veterans the services have to offer. Events will include shooting, swimming, archery, track, discus, shot put, cycling, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
“The Warrior Games are going to help build confidence for us competitors,” Lang said an interview with American Forces Press Service after a recent wheelchair basketball practice here. “I think it will also impact disabled veterans who aren’t competing by giving them something to work for and by showing them what they could be capable of.
“The games will give those who aren’t participating something to work towards,” he added. “If these games take off and are a big hit, there could be programs developed that could include the masses, influencing less-motivated wounded veterans to take part.”
But coming to grips with a physical disability can be a daunting challenge, he acknowledged, noting that for many combat-wounded veterans, confronting the mental aspect of recovery is the biggest challenge of all.
Just as it has been for many other injured servicemembers, Lang’s recovery was a long, difficult road, he said. He spent nearly two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before moving back to his hometown to continue rehabilitation for about a year. He recently returned to Walter Reed for a special surgery.
The year in Michigan was one of the hardest of his life, Lang said. After taking advantage of the care and adaptive sports programs at Walter Reed, Lang said he became idle and somewhat depressed at home.
“It was bad when I was home for that year,” he said. “Being here spoils you, because they take such good care of us. I’m so excited that I’m here, because I get to take advantage of the prosthetics and therapy and the programs.”
The twice-weekly wheelchair basketball practices are his favorite, Lang said. “I love and look so forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays here,” he added.
Sports and athletics have been a large part of Lang’s life, he said. He played quarterback on his high school football team. He also became the go-to guy on the Marine Corps wheelchair basketball team participating in the Warrior Games, as one of the faster players and more-consistent shooters on the squad, he said.
“My strong suit has always been athletics and I think the Warrior Games are going to be amazing,” Lang said. “I’m an athlete. I love playing sports. Whether I’m good at a particular sport, or not, I still consider myself an athlete, because sports are what I’ve always loved to do.”
Lang also is set to compete in archery and marksman events at the games.
Through adaptive sports, Lang and others found a second chance at life. Lang said he is proof that adaptive sports have the power to reconnect wounded veterans with their roots as servicemembers, restoring the confidence and passion many thought was lost when they were injured on the battlefield.
“I think one of the most-significant injuries that occur when anybody is injured is to your self-image and confidence,” he said. “That’s what makes it so hard to come to terms with your injuries.
“But games like [the Warrior Games] are going to give everybody a chance to compete on an even level. That’s going to be a great confidence builder. With the confidence you gain through adaptive sports, not everyone, but a lot of guys when they leave the hospital, will carry that mood into the rest of their lives.”