Purple Heart recipient Spc. Jake Lowery officially launched the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Sports Program with an inspirational team-roping performance in Las Cruces, N.M.
Lowery, 26, of Fort Richardson, Alaska, gave his right eye and sustained massive head injuries when he was hit by an improvised explosive device that killed a fellow Soldier in Fallujah, Iraq, on Feb. 11, 2007.
Less than a year later, Lowery, a lifelong cowboy, was back aboard a horse and roping steers, despite suffering from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"This pretty much keeps me going - it's the only thing that does," he said. "Without it, I'd just be hanging out in my room somewhere."
The Wounded Warrior Sports Program gives active-duty Soldiers with life-altering injuries an opportunity to compete in sporting events by paying for their athletic attire, registration fees, transportation, lodging and per diem.
"This is one of the best things the Armed Forces could have done because it's just therapy for these guys who feel like 'I lost this. I lost that,'" said Lowery's grandfather Pete Escobedo, 83, who served 27 years in the Army. "Jacob is a prime example. He's really trying. We're thankful for the Army for doing everything it can for him."
Despite struggling with limited depth perception, Lowery is encouraged that his roping skills will continue to improve. He has won an all-around crown in Alaska and teamed with his stepfather to capture the team-roping title at the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association's 2007 World Finals in Fort Worth, Texas.
"I'm not back to where I was, by any means," Lowery said. "I just keep practicing and hope it eventually comes back."
Escobedo has faith that Lowery eventually will overcome TBI and PTSD. Putting him on a horse is the best therapy he knows.
"I have been roping with Jacob since he was knee high to a grasshopper," granddad said. "I just don't have words to explain the love that we have for Jacob and how much we enjoy ourselves doing what we do."
"When he's on horseback or working out, he's a normal guy," said Lowery's stepfather John Escobedo. "But we'll be sitting at the house watching TV or something and it ain't the same guy. We drove six- or seven-hundred miles to the world finals - 14 hours of drive time - and he probably said three words. But you stick him on a horse or in the gym, where his comfort zone is, and he's fine."
Instructions for the application process to participate in the Wounded Warrior Sports Program are available at www.ArmyMWR.com.