As Will Reynolds, a former Army captain, gets out of bed, he kisses his pregnant wife’s cheek and takes his running leg from his son so that he can get ready for another day of training.
The 2015 DoD Warrior Games at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, are scheduled for June 19 to June 28, and Reynolds wants to earn gold not for himself, but for Team Army and for his family.
It’s been a long road for Reynolds, who served in the Army for six years as an infantry officer and rifle platoon leader.
He was the first person in his family to join the Army.
“Growing up, I always had a strong sense of civic duty and community that was instilled in me by different volunteer activities, by church and through the Boy Scouts,” Reynolds said. “I wanted to give back to society in a meaningful way.
Injured in Iraq
In 2004, while on a dismounted patrol during a reconnaissance mission in southwest Baghdad, Reynolds was injured when a remotely detonated improvised explosive devise went off. He underwent 26 surgeries as the doctors tried to salvage his left leg from November 2004 to December 2006. The doctors amputated his left leg through the knee.
“When his mother first saw him, it was hard to internalize where he would be years later,” Reynolds’ wife, Cassandra, said. “At that point, it seemed like he was going to be bed-ridden for an indefinite amount of time and he needed help with everything -- eating, going to the bathroom, everything.”
She added, “The doctors were pretty uncertain in terms of what his ability would be to walk normally, let alone run. To see where he’s come, where he’s started from and where he’s come to now, it’s just been incredible. With the right kind of support and therapy, he was able to do all the things he wanted to do, essentially.”
Cassandra Reynolds said their son, Malachi, who is now six years old, had a lot of questions regarding what happened to his father’s leg when he first returned home.
“One day, Malachi was at preschool, and they said, ‘Your daddy only has one leg.’ His response was, ‘Actually, he has five,’ she said with a laugh. “We handled it on an age-appropriate level.”
Will Reynolds said Malachi was interested in how the different prosthetics worked and seeing the different parts.
“He likes to help daddy put it on, so he had to be part of the process,” Cassandra Reynolds said. “He would go get the leg for him or charge it.”
Will Reynolds said having his family interested in his therapy and recovery process and wanting to get back to his children, Malachi, Gabrielle, 4, and Genevieve, 2, were the motivating factors to accelerate his recovery. Adaptive sports also helped.
Will Reynolds ran track and played baseball in high school and was a collegiate gymnast. Through Boy Scouts, he had gone canoeing, hiking and cycling.
“Adaptive sports helped me become an athlete again,” he said. “Adaptive sports are very much a journey, like the rehab process. It’s helped me really push my rehab process and try to get even further down the road in a higher level of functionality.”
Before he had a functional prosthesis, he said, he focused on seated sports such as seated skiing or hand cycling.
“I graduated from that and now I’m able to do all of my athletics in an ambulatory fashion, whether it’s running or cycling an upright bike or skiing with a prosthetic, so it’s always giving me that next milestone to strive to accomplish,” Will Reynolds said.
Cassandra Reynolds said her husband became pretty independent but leans on her now and then for support. She encourages other wounded warriors to acknowledge that they need help.
“It’s important for soldiers to acknowledge that they need the help,” she said. “A lot of them have been living independently. But leaning on your parents, leaning on your girlfriend, leaning on your wife, whoever can be there next to you and help you get through a lot of the emotional recovery that goes along with the physical recovery I think is important.”
Cassandra Reynolds added, “Undoubtedly, if there’s one individual in your life who has been present for you, they’re going to want to be there so let them and let them provide that role for you.”
Will Reynolds echoed his wife.
“There’s no one answer for anyone’s recovery journey,” he said. “You have to rely on your family, your friends, medical providers and other organizations out there. I encourage everyone to take the support from their family like Cassandra said and get involved with as many things as possible because then that will show you different ways you can be successful and just keep you moving along your journey.”
Will Reynolds said his family has helped him every step of the way, from deciphering medical advice to navigating the process of obtaining benefits and services, “And then, just being by my side as I go through all of these different organizations and these processes,” he said. “My family is really supportive in coming along with me on the trips as I’ve learned how to participate in adaptive athletics and being on the sidelines to cheer me on. They’ve been pretty integral to my recovery.”
Cassandra Reynolds said she’s impressed and inspired by her husband’s determination.
“We’re all pretty active. He gets us out there,” she said. The family rides bikes together, and, side-by-side, Casandra and Will ran the Army 10-Miler, she said.
Cassandra Reynolds said now that Malachi has started competing in soccer, baseball and swimming, attending events like the Warrior Games is an opportunity “to see how people can rally together to accomplish a goal, to see that it’s more about the camaraderie than the competition.”
Veterans Supporting Veterans
Will Reynolds is now training to compete in track and field and cycling at the Games, and through the Team Red, White and Blue organization, he has met fellow veterans and service members who he runs and cycles with.
“They support me through providing a network of individuals who I can train with, who I can interact with on a social basis, whether it’s a monthly get together for barbecues or other family activities,” Will Reynolds said.
Will Reynolds didn’t medal at the 2013 Warrior Games, but last year he earned bronze medals in men’s classified 100-meter and 200-meter swimming and bronze medals in the timed trial and road race in cycling at the Invictus Games in London.
At the Army Trials, Will Reynolds earned a bronze medal in the men’s classified 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter swimming events, and the silver medal for the men’s classified 1,500-meter swimming event. For cycling, he took fourth place overall.
Will Reynolds said his children are excited anytime he makes a team. The children, he added, think it’s like the Olympics.
“They get really excited,” he said. “They get real excited to be on the sidelines and cheer. It’s just a great family event.”
“The kids like to yell, ‘Go, daddy, go!’ as he crosses the finish line,” Cassandra Reynolds said.
“I like seeing him cross the finish line,” Malachi said. He said he likes to wear his father’s medals and pretend he is on the podium and hopes to join the Army someday.
Will Reynolds said he is happy to represent Team Army in this year’s DoD Warrior Games.
“It’s always a great feeling to get selected for any team, just knowing that you’ll be able to contribute to a greater effort and be able to compete with like individuals who are going through their rehab and recovery process. So, it’s really impactful to get selected,” he said.
Will Reynolds said he hopes to one day make the Paralympics cycling team, to greet his new baby in August, and to bring home the gold for Team Army and so Malachi has another medal to wear.