SAN ANTONIO (Sept. 10, 2014) -- Sgt. Ryan McIntosh intends to win six medals at the inaugural Invictus Games, scheduled for today through Sunday, in London.
"Of course I want to medal in all the events I'm entered in," said McIntosh, a para-track and field competitor in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, who plans to medal in the 100-meter dash, the 400-meter relay, the discus, the javelin, seated volleyball and wheelchair basketball. "That's always a goal for me."
McIntosh is a 2007 graduate of Rifle High School, in Rifle, Colorado, where he ran track and played football before joining the Army.
"On my first deployment, we were on a keep-the-peace mission, walking through a field and crossing a ditch," McIntosh recalled, of the day he lost a lower leg. "My very next step was on top of a pressure-plate land mine. It blew me up in the air; [I] landed, came to, and started crawling out and tried to stand up. Right after that, my squad leader was on me. He tackled me, and right after that, my medic was on top of me, as well. They patched me up, and I took a MedEvac shortly thereafter."
That was Dec. 8, 2010, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Seven days later, McIntosh began rehabilitating at the Center for the Intrepid on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He quickly resumed walking, and within six weeks, McIntosh was running again.
"Sports had always propelled me," he said.
While running for Rifle High, McIntosh posted personal-best times of 49.6 seconds for 400 meters and 11.1 seconds in the 100. After losing his leg, he originally thought his competitive running days were over.
"Honestly, no," McIntosh replied, when asked if he thought at the time that he could return to an elite level on the track. "When I was first timed in the 100, I ran something like a 14.60. But I realized I could still run. That was all I really cared about."
As McIntosh's times on the track dropped, he started thinking about other ways of serving.
"I always wanted to be in the military, and I always wanted to serve on the front line," he said. "But then, I kind of, I wouldn't say lost that dream, but I wanted to find another way that I could serve that was better suited for my family. I had taken the chance once, and I survived, so I looked at that and decided maybe I should do something that I could still provide for my family, but [also] something that I enjoy at the same time."
For three years, McIntosh enjoyed competing at the annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he squared off against fellow wounded troops in swimming, cycling, sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball and track and field. He won medals in seven of his eight events at the 2013 Warrior Games.
At the Warrior Games, McIntosh attracted the interest of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, known as WCAP, which gave him an opportunity to serve while pursuing his athletic goals.
WCAP provides outstanding Soldier-athletes with support and training that allows them to compete and succeed in national and international competitions leading to Olympic and Paralympic Games, while maintaining a professional military career and promoting the U.S. Army to the world.
Since the inception of WCAP in 1997, 61 Soldier-athletes have participated in the summer and winter Olympics, earning gold, silver and bronze medals. The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games marked the debut of a WCAP Winter Paralympian. Staff Sgt. Jen Lee helped Team USA become the first back-to-back gold medalist in sled hockey, as the first active-duty Soldier to win a medal in the Paralympic Games.
McIntosh entered WCAP in November of 2013, with sights set on competing at the 2016 Paralympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"There was a rumor after last year's Warrior Games about [Prince Harry] saying he wanted to start something similar over in the United Kingdom," McIntosh said. "I didn't really think much of it. I was focused more on my Paralympic goals. And then, one of my fellow athletes who I competed with last year at the Warrior Games, contacted me and said, 'Hey, what do you think about going to London and doing the Invictus Games?' He filled me in, and I said, 'Yeah, sure.'"
The Invictus Games is an international sporting event for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. The 98-member U.S. contingent consists of 22 athletes apiece from the Army, Air Force and Navy, 20 Marines, and 12 from Special Operations Command -- with 53 on active duty, and 45 who are veterans. They will compete against wounded warriors from 13 other nations.
This international event is a natural steppingstone for McIntosh, who is ineligible for future Warrior Games because he has met Paralympic time standards.
"Long term, my goal is to make it to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, in the javelin and long jump," McIntosh said. "I'm not sure about the 100."
McIntosh evolved to keep pace with the growing population of adaptive athletes.
"It's been rough," he said. "Before, my training consisted of playing different sports, like basketball. Now, all I do is run sprints, and then go straight to the weight room and lift. After taking off for a little bit, then back at it on the track again. Being 25, it's kind of like 'Wow, it's not as easy as it once was when I was 16 or 18, but I'm still doing it.' It's just something that I love. I love being active. I love trying to better myself every day -- to make my times a little bit faster. It just kind of goes into really who I am, more than anything.
"I always go, go, go, go, go -- then I have to take a rest phase, but it's something I enjoy doing," McIntosh said. "I enjoy helping the team no matter where I can or how I can. I enjoy it thoroughly."