Soldier Aims for Gold at Warrior Games
By C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, May 11, 2010 He'll have a tough time swimming -- and shooting -- and he's got stiff competition from his training buddy. But Army Sgt. Robert W. Laux wants to take home some metal and recognition from the inaugural Warrior Games being held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., this week.
Army Sgt. Robert W. Laux practices the shot put at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C., in preparation for the inaugural Warrior Games. U.S. Army photo by Kristen Ellis
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"[I want] to have a gold medal around my neck -- to have some of the Paralympics [people] recognize me," Laux said, outlining his hopes for the competition. "I don't know if I'm going to qualify for them or not, but just to have some people kind of recognize me and my abilities, and that I'm actually somewhat good -- like an athlete. Like a real Olympian."
Laux, assigned to the warrior transition unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, is participating in the "ultimate warrior" competition at the games.
The games are a joint effort of the Defense Department and the U.S. Olympic Committee to inspire recovery, capitalize on physical fitness, and promote opportunities for growth and achievement among wounded, ill, or injured servicemembers. Laux is one of about 200 servicemembers to participate in the games.
Laux, a 28-year-old infantryman, was struck by an improvised explosive device Nov. 18, 2007, while on patrol in Yusufiyah, Iraq.
"A really small IED went behind me -- I was dismounted -- so I had nothing protecting me but myself, and it basically just got my left arm," Laux said.
His left arm -- once his dominant arm -- still is attached to his body. He said he hadn't expected to keep it after the IED blast.
"At first … I had no thought I'd have it at all," he said. But doctors found the faintest pulse in the arm, he added, and that was enough for them to push through and save it for him. It has taken some 62 surgeries to get him where he is today.
"They did one hell of a job to save this arm," he said.
Laux’s left arm suffered nerve and tendon damage from the blast. It still moves and still does a few things for him, but it isn't his dominant hand any more. He has to depend a lot on the other arm now. He can't bend where his wrist used to be, his elbow doesn't flex as far as it used to, his arm doesn't rotate except at the shoulder, and his fingers don't grip or close nearly as well as his right -- they remain open, like a claw.
"This is open. This is closed," Laux said, demonstrating the current use of his once-dominant hand. The two positions look remarkably similar. "I really can't do much with this hand. Yes, I can grab like a cup. I can pretty much pick up anything, but if you ask me to do anything with it, that becomes really difficult, since I don't have a lot of movement with the fingers at all."
He soldiered on through the injury, and focuses now on intense training for the ultimate warrior competition at the games, which involves running, sprinting, swimming, shot put and air rifle competitions.
"I'm training every day -- every single day,” Laux said before leaving for the games. “I love to train, I love to get better and better every day. We're training a lot harder now and getting my times down a lot better, and training in a lot of more and different sports that I thought I never could do.”
Laux said swimming is tough for him because his left arm has difficulty delivering power to move him forward in the pool.
"I really can't cup the water and use a lot of power," he said.
But Laux said what motivates him most is his training partner, Army Sgt. Rob Brown, also a wounded soldier, and also a competitor at the games.
"My competition is pretty damn hard," Laux said of Brown. "He's a freaking machine. He's my biggest competition that I know of, even though we are both in the Army. He basically kills me in everything we do. We're basically, like, together all the time -- he's doing swimming like me, he's doing the track events like me. We're pushing each other. He's right there with me. Most of the time he gets me, and some of the time I beat him, on his off days. It's a constant battle."
Laux said that despite his injury, he wants to stay in the Army and stay in the fight. And, he hopes he can do that as an infantryman, out in the field with his fellow soldiers.
"I really want to make this a career -- 20 years," he said. "I want to be out in the fight. I'm an 11B, and the 11B is still in me."