By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and TransitionFebruary 21, 2018
ARLINGTON, Va. -To say Maj. Christina Truesdale, a flight surgeon, jumpmaster and veterinarian is lucky to be alive after several injuries and health challenges almost cost [her] her life is an understatement.
"I have a bad neck from jumping out of planes and rucking for many years. My head doesn't turn to the right and I have lost feeling in my right hand. I had several TBIs and lower back issues. I no longer have feeling in my left foot and two weeks ago, I was hit by a car while cycling." Truesdale said "A year ago, I had surgery for a rare neurological condition -- otherwise known as a tethered spinal cord. It's uncommon in adults and it's unknown whether it was due to trauma or a congenital condition. I also suffered a stroke." She continued
Those challenges have given Truesdale, a new outlook on life.
"After my second surgery, I was so debilitated that I could not dress myself or drive. I was really depressed and started regretting the surgery. You really start putting things in perspective when you're at rock bottom. You start thinking how you would be so grateful if you could just take out the trash or go grocery shopping," Truesdale said. "When you lose your independence, you start to really wonder if life will ever be the same. I had lots of set-backs and a million questions. What would happen to my Army career? Would I ever be able to ride my mules again? Would I ever be able to practice veterinary medicine again? Would I ever even walk normally again?"
Through it all, Truesdale says she remained optimistic.
"I just kept going. I set small goals and reveled in those small accomplishments. These were key to my recovery. I was able to get both of my socks on in under 10 minutes and I drove to Starbucks and back. I call these 'small victories'," Truesdale laughed.
While the South Carolina native celebrated the small victories, she found something else to conquer -- adaptive sports.
"When I first arrived at the Fort Benning's Warrior Transition Unit last July, I was devastated. I had just been through a rocky recovery and was replaced in my assignment as an instructor," Truesdale said. "I was also trying to deal with the fact that I would probably not be a triathlete again and would most likely be medically retired. I didn't know anything about the adaptive reconditioning program. I didn't even know the WTU had such a thing."
A chance encounter with a physical therapist helped Truesdale embrace her new normal.
I was sitting at a sushi restaurant and the Department of Defense Warrior Games were on ESPN. I still didn't know that the two were linked. I remember thinking "wow, those are some amazing athletes! Finally in September of 2017. I was cleared to start participating in adaptive reconditioning and one of the physical therapists encouraged me to try archery and air rifle. I had never tried either and I love to try new things, so I figured, why not?
Truesdale instantly fell in love with both of those sports. She also was able to get back on her bike. She started racing road bikes in 2010 and competing in triathlons in early 2011 which was an enormous personal victory for her at the time. Her Physical Therapist suggested that she compete at the Atlantic Regional Trials, a qualifying event for Army Trials. "I was only going to cycle, but he encouraged me to enter archery air rifle and air pistol too," Truesdale said. "By the time it was over, I ended up swimming and playing sitting volleyball as well!"
And the rest as they say is history. Truesdale is one of more than 100 wounded warrior athletes headed to Fort Bliss, Texas to compete in the 2018 Army Trials March 3 - 8. Soldiers and veterans will compete in nine events with hopes of earning a spot on Team Army for the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games, June 2 - 9 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Army Trials aren't just another athletic competition, they're a way for all of us Wounded Warriors to stand proudly once again after all of our challenges and say 'Hello world!! I'm back in the saddle again!' They help you reflect on all of the things you faced to get to the competition and gives you a perspective on how far you've come," she said.
Truesdale is grateful for the opportunity to compete and humbled to do so with her fellow wounded warriors. For her, the road to the Army Trials has been about regaining her dignity as an American Solider and feeling like part of the Army team again. Now instead of retiring she is going to participate in what she calls a great collective journey of human resilience and faith.
After 14 years of active duty service, Truesdale will retire in June, however she says this is just the beginning of her quest to help other athletes reach their full potential in spite of setbacks they may encounter. Through her journey to recovery, she developed a new attitude and a mantra of sorts.
"When I'm feeling defeated, I just remember: NO = next opportunity, END = effort never dies, and FAIL = first attempt in learning."
A perspective and approach we could all benefit from.