Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for May 9, 2011 - Sgt. 1st Class Justin Minyard

Sergeant First Class Justin Minyard

Current Unit: Charlie Company, Fort Bragg Warrior Training Battalion
Current Position: Wounded Warrior in Transition
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Fort Bragg, N.C.
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Years of Service: 12

When a severe back injury forced Sgt. 1st Class Justin Minyard to take medical leave and return early from his deployment to Iraq, doctors told him that he could be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life due to degenerative disc disease. That was in 2008. Today, Minyard is not only able to walk again, but he is actively training to compete in a 20-kilometer recumbent cycling race next week at the second annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Minyard first injured his back nearly a decade ago while serving as a first responder to the recovery effort at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2011. Despite chronic back pain, he still deployed twice to the Middle East.

In 2007-2008, while serving his second tour overseas as a platoon sergeant in Iraq, Minyard led a group of more than 40 Soldiers on intelligence reconnaissance missions. But nearly a year into his 15-month deployment, he reinjured his back. The extent of the damage left him unable to walk and he returned home. Despite the early redeployment, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service throughout his tour.

For the Soldier, who felt a deep commitment to his unit, not finishing his deployment was exceptionally difficult.

“We were a very close platoon in Iraq. Being with the same guys, 24 hours a day, caused us to develop really tight-knit relationships,” he said. “Even though some of the stuff we did wasn’t fun, I enjoyed being there with those guys. It was much more like a family than just being at work.”

Minyard underwent multiple surgeries to replace several of his spinal discs with titanium substitutes. The pain was so excruciating that he received an internal spinal cord simulator, which sends electrical impulses to his brain in order to mitigate some of the pain signals.

After spending nearly a year in a wheelchair, he was encouraged to consider adaptive cycling to assist in his rehabilitation.

“We didn’t know at the time if cycling would help my ability to walk,” he said. “It was really more about getting out and becoming active,” he said. “But cycling really helped me mentally and physically. Along with a ton of physical therapy, I was able to use the wheelchair less and less.”

At first, cycling was a tremendous challenge for Minyard, and even a short ride would leave him exhausted and in a great deal of pain. But he was determined to persevere and began to participate in Ride 2 Recovery cycling races with other wounded service members. Soon, he was hooked on the sport and began to cycle competitively. During one event, Minyard learned about the Warrior Games and set a new goal for himself: to compete in Colorado Springs.

“I was on a Ride 2 Recovery race and all of the sudden another guy on a bike flew past me. It turned out he had won a gold medal at the Warrior Games for cycling and was going on to the Paralympics,” he said. “Competing in the Warrior Games seemed like the next step in my own recovery, and I began training immediately.”

After training for nearly a year, Minyard is looking forward to competing in the Warrior Games next week.

“The Warrior Games feel like the next step in my recovery,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be challenged and to ride on the same track that Olympians ride on along with other wounded service members. It’s a chance to compete on the next level and race against some of the best cyclists in the military.”

Minyard lives in Fayetteville, N.C., with his wife and daughter, and both will accompany him to the Warrior Games. After what Minyard hopes will be a successful ride in Colorado Springs, he plans to begin training for the Paralympics.

To learn more about the Warrior Games, please visit http://www.usparalympics.org/pages/8330 and http://www.wtc.army.mil/about_us/warriorgames.html. Additionally, to learn more about the Warrior Transition Command and its commitment to adaptive sports, please visit http://wtc.armylive.dodlive.mil/.

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