A new motto: Get active, get healed

Spc. Jorge Maldonado, left, Sgt. Gary Saleh, right

Spc. Jorge Maldonado, left, Sgt. Gary Saleh, right

FORT BLISS, Texas — A group of Fort Bliss soldiers who are suffering the physical and emotional scars from war and constant training are on a new mission: to get active and heal by competing in sports.

Seven members of the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion will compete in the inaugural Southwest Regional Valor Games in San Antonio on Sept. 23-25.

The games are an opportunity for wounded, injured and ill service members and veterans to compete against each other in six sports – archery, cycling, kayaking, powerlifting, wheelchair basketball and air guns.

Being involved in sports absolutely can help with their recovery, said Marc Cattapan, military adaptive sports coordinator for the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion, which provides care for about 400 soldiers.

“The No. 1 side effect when a soldier gets wounded or injured is they get depressed and suffer a lack of motivation,” Cattapan said. “Any activity can be adapted to any injury. We want soldiers to be aware that they can compete in any activity and that it can help them heal.

“Our unofficial motto is: Get active and get healed.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kimberly Lamberton of Long Beach, Calif., is a former helicopter pilot who survived two helicopters colliding and crashing in Afghanistan. Remarkably, everyone survived, but she’s suffered from post traumatic stress and depression since then, she said.

She will compete in kayaking and cycling at the Valor Games, which are being put on by the Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Paralympics.

“Competition is nerve-racking but it’s good to push yourself and test your limits,” Lamberton said. “It’s a challenge to see what I’m made of. A year ago, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

From left, Marc Cattapan, Spc. Isaac Brennan, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kimberly Lamberton, Warrant Officer 1 Waldemar Miro, Sgt. Gary Saleh, Maj. Gabriel Rondon, Spc. Jorge Rivera, Spc. Jorge Maldonado

From left, Marc Cattapan, Spc. Isaac Brennan, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kimberly Lamberton, Warrant Officer 1 Waldemar Miro, Sgt. Gary Saleh, Maj. Gabriel Rondon, Spc. Jorge Rivera, Spc. Jorge Maldonado

Spc. Isaac Brennan of Phoenix will compete in all six events at the games.

He injured his knees, hips and shoulders during repeated training exercises while stationed in Germany. He also started to suffer from depression after getting injured, he said.

“This has given me new hope, and I’ve regained physical confidence in myself,” Brennan said.

The Valor Games are a notch below the Warrior Games, which are held every May in Colorado Springs Colo., at the Olympic Training Center, Cattapan said.

“It’s an opportunity for soldiers who aren’t top echelon athletes to compete and medal,” Cattapan said. Organizers are expecting at least 125 athletes will compete.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Will Harper is helping to train Fort Bliss’ cyclists for the Valor Games.

“A lot of these guys can’t go back to active duty because of their injuries and are transitioning to civilian life,” Harper said. “This gives them a sense of accomplishment and gives them a new mission, which is to recover and reintegrate into society.”

Sgt. Gary Saleh of Liberty, N.C., suffered a traumatic brain injury and burns during a training accident at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. He also suffers from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from a tour in Iraq in 2006-07.

He will compete in archery, air guns, cycling and kayaking in San Antonio.

“It think of it as an opportunity to better myself,” he said.

Saleh also hopes he can serve as a positive role model to other soldiers who have suffered injuries and send a message that they can be stay active despite their injuries.

Spc. Jorge Maldonado, of Murrieta, Calif., injured his back while doing training before his unit was going to deploy. He needs back surgery, but is competing in cycling, archery and air guns.

“When you are injured, you don’t feel quite the same,” Maldonado said. “This helps you physically and mentally.”

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