Soldier Overcomes Lifelong Fear with Warrior Games
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 14, 2010 Army Spc. Marie Princler sought months ago to participate in the inaugural Warrior Games being held here this week to prove she’s not limited by her disability.
Army Spc. Marie Princler swims the 50-meter freestyle May 12, 2010, in the inaugural Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Like many disabled veteran athletes competing in the games, Princler suffers from a service-related injury, and is looking to build on an already-successful recovery program. But as the games neared, she toyed with the idea of confronting another handicap that emerged early in her childhood.
A fear of water has troubled the 23-year-old mechanic for most of her life, and the Warrior Games seemed to be the perfect stage to conquer her fears, she said.
“I really wanted to run at the Warrior Games to help overcome my injuries,” Princler said of the torn quadriceps and damaged knee that hinder her left leg. She was hurt in a training accident while stationed in Germany in December 2007. “Since participation in the games required that I compete in multiple events, I thought it would be a good time to try to overcome my fear of water.”
Princler’s fear developed after a car accident when she was 7 years old. The roads were flooded that day in Frederick, Md. Her grandfather lost control of his car, veered off a bridge and plunged into the Monocacy River, she recalled.
Princler was knocked unconscious by the fall, but aside from that, the family was unharmed, she said. In the hospital after the accident, however, her grandmother told her they had been trapped in the car for some time until rescue workers arrived.
She has been terrified of water ever since.
“I never learned to swim because of the car wreck,” Princler said. “I’ve always had a certain fear of water in my face, and get anxiety pretty bad when I take a shower and get into a pool.”
But for the past month, Princler has been taking baby steps toward beating her fear. Her fellow soldiers at the Fort Carson, Colo., warrior transition unit have taken a special interest in helping her, she said.
“When I got to the [unit], I really got a sense that they care about our issues and want to help us get better,” she said. Army Sgt. Gavin Sibayan, a close friend and fellow swimmer on the Army team here, taught Princler how to float and swim, as well as techniques to control her breathing in competition, she said.
“Sergeant Sibayan has been a big help for me,” Princler said. “He’s taught me a lot, and I’m just going to keep putting his coaching into practice and getting better.”
She just has to remember not to let her anxiety get the best of her, she said.
“The whole time I’m swimming, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I can do it,’ trying to block out what I remember about the car wreck,” she explained. “It’s still hard, and I get nervous going out there, so I have to psych myself out and tell myself I’m not going to drown.”
Princler praised the Warrior Games for giving her an outlet and the motivation to take on her fears. Training for the games was the extra push she needed to finally go toe-to-toe with fear after 16 years, she said.
“The idea of the Warrior Games is pretty neat,” she said. “Whether it’s continuing rehabbing with my leg or overcoming my fear of water -- whatever the injuries are -- the games show that you can overcome anything and still be successful in your life.”
Princler competed in the 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter backstroke May 12. It was her first competitive swim, and one of the few times she has gone the entire length of the pool. She’s proud of her accomplishments, but there’s still work left to do to completely defeat her fear, she said.
“The fear is still kind of overwhelming, but I think I’m getting close to getting over it now,” she said. “I’m just going to keep practicing and trying to achieve my goals.”