By Leanne ThomasMarch 18, 2019
FORT BLISS, Texas -- "The goal from my initial consult with my surgeon was to be able to walk pain free, and I actually never thought that I'd be able to do some of the things that I can do now," said Maj. Erik Kozma, a wounded warrior athlete assigned to the Fort Benning Warrior Transition Unit and competing in the 2019 Army Trials.
Kozma is a third generation combat veteran who was born at Beaumont Army Medical Center when his parents were both stationed at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range. His mom, an Army nurse and his dad, an Army aviator, both served two tours each in Vietnam. His grandfather served in World War II as a naval bombardier. Kozma continued the family legacy and was also called to serve.
While assigned to the Georgia National Guard, the logistics officer deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with a Joint-Headquarters command in 2018. During this time, Kozma fell in the barracks and broke three bones in his right foot which had to be surgically fused back together to regain stability.
"I've got over 25 jumps out of an air plane but apparently walking through the barracks can be quite treacherous," Kozma said with a kind smile on his face.
As Kozma is now close to the end of his recovery and returning-to-duty, he can now laugh a little about what he's been through. However, this has not always been the case.
"When I first got injured the surgeon told me that I was probably going to have to leave the Army because that's how most of these injuries go," he said.
When asked what he has experienced during this recovery, Kozma said, "Going through this recovery has been a journey for me and my family. And adaptive sports and recreational therapy was very important during my recovery process."
Kozma explained, "In the beginning just after surgery, I was in a full cast and the doctor was so specific, he said, 'you can't even pretend to walk on it. You have to keep weight off of this thing.'"
For Kozma, recreational therapy at this time was sitting at a table with other Soldiers and doing puzzles.
He said, "I know that sounds a little mundane, but in that process you're sharing with other people, and you're a part of a team. And yes the team is there just to build that puzzle, but it's meaningful work."
As Kozma slowly started healing, he was able to participate in more and more activities.
"I started to shooting, swimming, and it slowly progressed to where I was doing more and more," he said.
"When I started cycling, I could only use the hand-cycle, and now I am training and competing in the men's upright cycling competition."
Kozma is also participating in wheelchair tennis, and sitting volleyball, and he has really taken up the sport of shooting.
"The calmness of shooting, the repetition, having the control over what's going on, that's really appealing to me. It's all an internal mechanism of what your shot process is and how you're going to go about it, and every shot is your shot," he explained. "You have control over that situation, so that's the appealing thing and that helps the mind to recover. Because when you go out here to shoot if you have a lower-body injury, it just doesn't matter. All of that goes away. All of your focus is on what you're doing with your rifle, and what you're doing with your breathing, what you're doing with your trigger squeeze, and how you can do that consistently over and over again."
After almost a year of recovery, Kozma said he would like to encourage all Veterans and wounded Soldiers to take a step and try something different.
He said, "There are adaptive sports and there are things that you can find joy in. And when you start taking those little steps, eventually you are going to find that it becomes a routine, and it becomes a part of your life."
"Then you have things to wake up to in the morning and you say to yourself, 'this is what I'm going to do.' Or the night before you think about getting that training session in at the gym the next day ... and that starts to build meaning in your life," Kozma added.
"Make an effort, try a sport, put yourself out there and you'll get something in return."