News

Retired Navy Chief Shocked to Medal at Invictus Games

Sept. 28, 2017 | BY Shannon Collins , DOD News

As Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, crossed the finish line here at the 2017 Invictus Games at High Park Sept. 26, she was in shock that she had earned her first medal in an athletic competition.

Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, races a hand cycle during the 2017 Invictus Games
Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, races a hand cycle during the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 27, 2017. Young placed third in her disability category. DoD photo by EJ Hersom
Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, races a hand cycle during the 2017 Invictus Games
Hand Cycle
Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, races a hand cycle during the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 27, 2017. Young placed third in her disability category. DoD photo by EJ Hersom
Photo By: EJ Hersom
VIRIN: 170927-D-DB155-004

“The volunteers were like, ‘We’re walking back to the podium.’ I thought we were just going to go support everybody who won. I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go cheer them on,’ but they were like, ‘No, you’re going to the podium,’” she said in disbelief.

“I was pretty shocked,” Young said. “My goal was just to get out here, do my best and finish -- just finish strong and not get stuck anywhere. I’m pretty surprised I actually medaled.”

Young earned the bronze medal in the women’s hand cycle time trial for her disability category. She last competed in cycling and swimming during the 2013 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but didn’t medal.

Young said she had fun despite finishing out of medal range at the Warrior Games. This year, at her first Invictus Games, she is competing in wheelchair tennis and cycling.

Young said the course here is beautiful, but challenging. “It was harder than I’m used to,” she said. “I live in Orlando and there’re not many hills. It’s just a straight road and flat surface. There were lots of hills and turns.”

Injury

Young served in the Navy for 14 years as a yeoman. Her father was a Marine and her uncle served in the Army in Vietnam. She said she joined the Navy to travel the world. After 9/11, she said, her ship was one of the first to deploy off the coast of Iraq, having passed through the Suez Canal and into the Persian Gulf.

In 2013, Young was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body. While she was transitioning out of the military, she found out about adaptive sports through Navy Safe Harbor.

Support

“My counselor there encouraged me to go and check out the trials in Virginia. I’m like, ‘I don’t do any sports. That’s not me.’ She pushed me to go and try it out. I’m really glad she did because I love it,” she said.

Young said the support she has received at the Invictus Games has been tremendous. “I’m blown away by how supportive everyone has been and all of the encouragement I receive from all of the other athletes,” she said. “From the staff, from the volunteers, it’s been awesome and a huge help.”

Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, serves during tennis preliminaries at the 2017 Invictus Games
Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, serves during tennis preliminaries at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 24, 2017. DoD photo by EJ Hersom
Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, serves during tennis preliminaries at the 2017 Invictus Games
2017 Invictus Games Athletics
Sharona Young, a medically retired Navy chief petty officer, serves during tennis preliminaries at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 24, 2017. DoD photo by EJ Hersom
Photo By: EJ Hersom
VIRIN: 170924-D-DB155-031

For tennis, the city of Toronto provided a tennis court over a fountain at Nathan Phillips Square so the athletes would have a nice location, she said. “It was beautiful,” Young said. “It was such a nice platform that they put down for us to have matches on. I was like, ‘This is gorgeous.’ I really enjoyed tennis. I got a bunch of new tips and things to work on, what I should and shouldn’t do. It was fun.”

Young said she enjoyed having the Canadian community come out and cheer for her, giving support and thanking Team U.S. for coming to Toronto.

Adaptive Sports

Young encourages service members with disabilities to give adaptive sports a try. “Don’t be afraid of the challenges or the unknown. Just trust yourself and have fun. Focus on what you can do, what skills you have and go from there,” she said. “Come out of your comfort zone and try something new because you might end up finding something you absolutely love that you otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to experience. Try something new.”

Young said families and caregivers are essential to the athletes at Invictus.

“It’s one of the most important things because you need that rock; you need that person you can depend on when you’re in that dark place to push you or give you that little extra to get going,” she said. “Even if you don’t realize you need it, your family and support systems can see when you’re struggling before you can and be there to give you that boost.”

Young’s support system is her caregiver and sister, Nakesha, and daughter, Taylor, 11. “They mean the world to me; they are my everything,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without them, without their help and encouragement and just the support I get on a day-to-day basis from them.”

More than 550 wounded, ill and injured service members from 17 nations compete in 12 sporting events including archery, track and field, cycling, golf, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball from Sept. 23 to 30 as they are cheered on by thousands of family members, friends and spectators in the Distillery District here.