WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Watching the wounded, ill and injured service members compete in the eight events at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games, their resilience -- their capacity to bounce back and grow from adversity -- was evident.
Tantamount to being resilient is the ability to set and achieve goals: for their recovery, in their adaptive sports, and in life. Drawing on one's personal motivation is a primary tenet of goal setting: a performance skill that includes a seven-step process and is taught by Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Experts (MRT-PEs) with Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, an Army program that builds resilience and enhances the performance of Soldiers, Army civilians and their families.
To make it all the way from injury to competing in the DOD Warrior Games, athletes must set and achieve myriad goals, and it's easy for anyone to lose motivation along the way. That's why A.J. Pacheco, an MRT-PE and mental skills coach for the Army's Warrior Games swimming team, asked each of his athletes to identify their "why," their individual, personal reason for continuing their journeys of recovery, as well as competing in the DoD Warrior Games.
"I found pictures that summed up the athletes' 'why' statements, or rephrased them in a positive way," Pacheco explained. He then put the phrases and pictures together in a format similar to that of a meme, laminated them on hand-held cards, and gave them to his athletes so they could keep their "whys" close at hand.
"My 'why' is to prove my self-worth. A lot of people didn't think that I could make it here. Swimming is not my strong sport," said Army veteran Brandi Evans of Fort Bliss, Texas, who also competes in cycling, sitting volleyball, track and wheelchair basketball.
"People tell me I have good technique, but personally I'm not comfortable in the water. [Pacheco] helped me with some breathing skills and just trying to refocus, and I just chose self-worth to prove that I could do it."
Childhood left Army veteran Eric Pardo with the mindset that he was a loser, and that he wasn't "good enough" in general.
"Around age eight I was told I was dumb, but it turned out I just needed glasses," explained Pardo. Subsequently, he started getting good grades. "There was a lot of respect and love I didn't get as a kid, but I didn't know any different."
Despite his success in the classroom, his mindset of being a failure continued into high school. As a freshman, Pardo was recruited by the high school cross country coach, which began his sports career. He went on to compete in baseball and volleyball as well.
"My whole high school career, I didn't get higher than a bronze. I was slow compared to the elite guys. Even though I was faster than most of the competitors, I didn't see myself as a winner, I was still a failure. I just thought that I was not good enough," Pardo admitted.
After high school, Pardo joined the Army, where his 12-minute two-mile run time put him a full minute faster than the Army's physical fitness test requirement. He became a decorated combat medic with Airborne, Air Assault, and earned three expert combat medic badges. Still, when he joined a light infantry battalion, his felt like his three badges paled in comparison to the five that other Soldiers had received, like the Ranger Tab and Expert Infantryman Badge.
Eventually, the injuries he sustained while deployed, including injuries to his ankle, left knee and bulging disc, compounded with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, resulted in Pardo being medically retired from the Army. Among his limitations, he could never run again.
Upon entry in his Warrior Transition Unit, Pardo learned about adaptive sports, including the opportunity to compete in the DOD Warrior Games. During the Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas earlier this year, Pardo was one of the athletes asked by Pacheco what his "why" is.
"I didn't expect [Pacheco] to take what I said, feel what I felt, and come up with this mantra. It was life-changing," said Pardo, as he described the moment when Pacheco returned toward the end of the Army Trials with a photo of a lion and the caption.
"I'm coming for everything they said I couldn't have." Pardo continued, "I was completely broke. I had no words to express my awe. I sat down. I kept looking at it... He went above and beyond to understand me. I'm forever changed because of his thought process."
After receiving his card, Pardo thought, "How am I going to incorporate this into my life?" He decided to help out his fellow archers, one of whom, 1st Lt. Michael Matthews, earned the gold medal in the individual compound category of archery at the DOD Warrior Games. Overall, the compound team, including Pardo, earned second place at the games.
Pardo has used his mantra in and out of competition. At the Army Trials in March, he took home three gold medals, two silver medals, and one bronze medal overall. At the DoD Warrior Games he earned a silver medal. The lion is on his smart phone, so Pardo has it with him at all times.
"I see it every day. I'm a better archer. I am more calm when stuff goes wrong in my life. I meditate on that mantra," Pardo concluded.
CSF2 has Training Centers across the Army, staffed with personnel who can help you or your organization find your motivation so you can perform better in whatever your mission is. Visit http://csf2.army.mil/training-centers.html for more information.