A disability does not mean inability

By CourtesyMarch 12, 2019

By MaryTherese Griffin, Warrior Care and Transition and Leanne O. Thomas, Tripler Army Medical Center

FORT BLISS, TEXAS - Retired Staff Sgt. Michael Shaw was one of the 50 wounded warrior athletes that participated in the adaptive rowing competition, the first event of the 2019 Army Trials, held at Soto Physical Fitness Center, Mar. 7.

"I used to sit at the house and say I'm really in too much pain... not today. I'm really in too much pain but through counseling, I learned that if you wait for pain it could be two or three days before you have a good day."

Shaw knows a lot about pain. After three deployments between 2003 and 2009 to Iraq he is dealing with everything from head injuries to orthopedic injuries, which include a neck fusion, knee surgeries and ankle surgeries. Despite several service-related injuries, Shaw has decided to make every day a good day. Recently, adaptive sports and mental health counseling led him to the 2019 Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas.

"It's a chance to compete and it's a chance to challenge myself. I've seen other people at sports competitions with disabilities and I say, 'If they can do it, I can do it'."

And he is doing it - through the Army's Warrior Care and Transition program, wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and Veterans are provided enduring support and the resources they need to recover and overcome.

In the sport of indoor rowing, wounded warrior athletes use rowing machines with adaptive hand-grips and seats. Athletes compete in six classification categories allowing for fair competition between athletes with different disabilities.

"A disability does not mean inability - we may do it just a little bit differently. That's why it's called adaptive sports and for the record we can still do it."

Shaw will also compete in archery, swimming, shooting, rugby and basketball in ways he has never competed before - they are all modified for disabilities.

During the 2019 Army Trials, nearly 100 wounded, injured or ill Soldiers and Veterans are competing for different reasons, but all want the same thing- to represent Team Army during the Department of Defense Warrior Games this summer.

"I come and I compete because I want to be inspired and I hope I can inspire someone because an injury or illness does not mean life stops," said Shaw.

Making Team Army for Shaw stretches beyond the winner's podium. For this Veteran, it means staying in the family.

"It means a lot. It's like saying the family continues not just when you are in uniform but when you transition out, you're still part of the family."