By Annette P. Gomes Warrior Care and Transition
FORT BLISS, TX - Long before Spc. Austin Harwick was burning rubber on the Army Trials track, his mom, Mary Anne Harwick, says he was hard to catch as a child.
"He was pretty fast that's for sure, it was hard to keep up with him," she laughed.
"Yeah, she would probably say that. I think it's because I was always blowing out my shoes or shredding the knees on my pants. My switch is usually stuck at the ON point when I'm running, which drives my occupational therapists crazy, and track is one of the times where I can really just go 100 percent," added Harwick.
The avid athlete says he feels blessed to enjoy what he calls his passion despite a multitude of medical setbacks including; Guillain barre syndrome, a rapid - onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system which damages the peripheral nervous system. The initial symptoms are typically changes in sensation or pain along with muscle weakness, beginning in the feet and hands. This often spreads to the arms and upper body. Harwick was diagnosed in 2017 at the age of 22.
"One day I was running and the next I could barely walk. What GBS does to the body is turn its own autoimmune system against the peripheral nervous system by eating up the sheaths on the nerves. This can leave a person in different states of paralysis or even kill them," he said.
Always up for a challenge, Harwick says he focused on his health and healing.
"I was told there was no set recovery time. It could be weeks or years until you could fully recover if you were even able to. I just asked them how we could fix this, and they told me lots of physical therapy," Harwick said. "I do love fitness. It's become probably my biggest passion in life and I took it so much more seriously after I got sick. You'll definitely see me hitting the gym every day. I've been pushing myself hard since my diagnosis."
"It's exhilarating to see him fly on the track after seeing how he could hardly walk. The fact that he's come this far is a miracle," said Mary Ann.
Harwick's fierce determination landed him an opportunity to compete during the 2019 Army trials in Fort Bliss, Texas. He joins nearly 100 other wounded, ill or injured athletes, competing for a spot to represent the Army during the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games, June 21 - 30 in Tampa, Fla. At the Army Trials, Harwick is competing in rowing, powerlifting, track, and swimming.
"It's such a huge honor to be here and I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to be here with all these amazing athletes. Every single one of them is a star. They are all points of inspiration. Everyone supports one another and brings tons of motivation to the team. We all strengthen each other and bring out the best of us as well."