By Christopher Fields, Warrior Care and TransitionOctober 24, 2018
SYDNEY -- Over the first three Invictus Games, Team U.S. has been fortunate to win many medals in many events, but few may remember the very first Team US medal, who won it, or the event in which it was won. Well, that medal was a bronze in the 100 meters won by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan McIntosh at the 2014 inaugural Invictus Games in London.
"It was a normal race for me. My mindset was to do the best that I could and be the top American at the end and I won bronze," McIntosh said. "It's an honor to represent my country and to be the first Invictus Games medalist for Team U.S. is an honor as well."
The Invictus Games have grown since the inaugural games in London, with the event being held in Orlando, Florida in 2016 and Toronto in 2017. McIntosh did not compete at either of those, but is excited to be back for this year's Games in Sydney. "It's good to be back at the Invictus Games and I'm excited to be competing here. I'm fortunate enough to have been able to compete in several events around the world, but being here is special because of the military bond we all have."
McIntosh had his right leg amputated below the knee due to injuries he sustained after stepping on a pressure-plate land mine in December 2010 while on patrol in the Arghandab River Valley in Afghanistan. He was determined to make the most of his new normal and found adaptive sports while he recovered at the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Adaptive sports would provide him a way to put some of his old self into his new self.
"When I was first injured, I wanted to get back to my unit and my guys, but my wife was pregnant and I needed to be there for her and my son," McIntosh said. "So I was motivated to get back to being 'me' as fast as I could and sports helped me do that. They helped me get back in my element and I knew it was something I wanted to be able to do with my son just as my dad did with me."
McIntosh began running and playing many adaptive sports roughly two months after his injury. He went on to compete at the 2012 and 2013 Warrior Games in several sports, but he truly began to excel as a track athlete. He was accepted into the Army's World Class Athlete Program as a track athlete in November 2013 and remains there today, but he is no longer running track.
"The track workouts began to take a toll on my leg where after I did a couple track workouts -- I couldn't walk for a couple days," McIntosh said. "I have kids that I want to be able to run around and do things with and be active for, so I had to say goodbye to track and find something else."
McIntosh discovered a new sport, archery, thanks to a friend and an opportunity to compete overseas. "A friend of mine, who is also at WCAP, asked me if I wanted to compete in Paris. I told him absolutely, then he said 'Well, you have two months to learn to shoot a bow,'" McIntosh recalled of his start in archery. "So I began practicing and I got better at and started to be competitive. Archery is completely different from track though. It's slower in just about every way there is."
The intensity that gave McIntosh his edge in other sports was now a negative in archery. McIntosh had to figure out how to slow down and take an entirely different approach than he ever had before.
"Track is such a physical activity and if you have it, you have it," he said. "Archery on the other hand is far more mental. You have to train yourself to forget about the last arrow you shot and think about the next one or you'll mess that one up too. Archery is all about your mental agility as opposed to the physical agility you need in track."
McIntosh is ready to compete in his new sport at the Invictus Games, but there is a part of him that wants to be back on the track. "I do miss track every day. The guys I ran against in London are actually here and we've talked about how it would be cool to run against each other again, but we won't and that's okay," McIntosh said. "Archery has really grown on me. It has helped calm me down a lot which has helped me be more patient, gracious and understanding in other parts of my life. Plus, it's more important that I'm healthy for my family."
From an intense and aggressive fast-paced sport to one that requires a calm and steady hand, McIntosh has been able to balance himself as a person and an athlete. Now, the man that won the first Team U.S. Invictus Games medal is back and looking to add three more medals to his trophy case as he competes in sitting volleyball and archery (individual and team) during the 2018 Invictus Games.