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NEWS | May 6, 2015

Wounded Warrior uses adaptive sports for change

By Senior Airman Kimberly Nagle 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Days before a deployment, U.S. Army Capt. Joe Colón, Jr. attempted to block a shot during a pickup game of basketball with a few other Soldiers, and as he came back down a crack echoed throughout the gymnasium.

Colón broke his ankle that day, ripping apart ligaments that would take months to repair, ultimately keeping him from his deployment.

"I was angry," said Colón, "I felt like I let my entire unit down."

Shortly following the injury, Colón was transferred to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Eustis, Virginia, a unit that provides personalized support to wounded and ill Soldiers requiring more than six months of care.

After arriving at the WTU, Colón was still angry and in a major depression.

"Between anger and lack of self-worth, I also felt guilty, only adding to my depression," he said. "It was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this injury."

About a month after the deployment halting break, Colón underwent surgery and began the recovery process. While recovering, the captain participated in WTU programs, and started to feel more like the guy who blocked shots on the basketball court a year ago. 

The program that caught his attention the most was adaptive sports. These sports were created for Service members unable to participate in typical athletics, including archery, seated volleyball and swimming.

"Part of my anger was realizing I could not play other sports, or even run," said Colón. "I am a competitive person, and the adaptive sports helped me express my competitive nature."

A few weeks after Colón started playing adaptive sports, an e-mail for the pre-tryouts for the Warrior Games Army Team came through his inbox.

Colón attended the week-long tryouts at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, not expecting to make it far in the competition since it was his first time.
"I didn't think I would make it this time," he said. "Plus, I only went there to try out for a couple events, but with the encouragement of the people there, I tried out for every event. I would say that is what helped me get to the next round."

Colón and 99 other Soldiers made it to the next round of the competition, this time taking place at Fort Bliss, Texas, for two weeks.

"During the two weeks I learned so much, not only from the coaches, but the other competitors," said Colón. "I remember working on my archery, getting tired and ready to take a break but then I saw a double amputee still going as if he was nowhere close to stopping. That encouraged me to keep going."

With tired arms, worn fingers and hazy eyes, Colón made it through several rounds of archery shooting hundreds of arrows at the target, and is now waiting to find out if he is one of 45 qualifiers for the 2015 Warrior Games Army Team scheduled for June 19-29 in Quantico, Virginia.

"Even if I do not make it this time, I will be back," he said. "It is not about the competition for me, it was all about the atmosphere that was around me; the love, the passion. It is hard to explain the feeling of being at the games."

For Colón, the games took the focus away from being angry at himself for not being able to deploy and support his unit. He said he stopped focusing on what he couldn't do, and focused on the present - what he could achieve, but mostly who he could support now.

"There is a point at the tryouts where you stop thinking about yourself and you start cheering your heart out for another competitor," he continued. "I was in the lead for the seated throw and my buddy was up next. I sat there and cheered him on encouraging him to beat me and it didn't even bother me that he did because I was so proud of him for doing his best."

Even if Colón does not make this year's team, he said he sees that he was still a part of something that helped him move forward and learn how to get back up from his lowest low. If he fails this year, he won't be angry or depressed, just ready for the opportunity to try out again in nine months.

"Some expect an injury to ruin them, and I thought mine had, but it has helped me in a way that I have never expected," he said. "In the last year I have been with the WTU, I have had more personal growth than in 20 years prior, the majority of which came from daring to try out for the games and meeting all of the encouraging athletes along my journey."