By Antonieta Rico, SR2 Strategic CommunicationsApril 2, 2019
FORT BLISS, Texas -- After almost 20 years of soldiering, Sgt. 1st Class Ian Crawley must now live with the physical limitations imposed on him by a series of medical issues that have left him unable to run. Besides three herniated discs in his lower back, he's had three surgeries for ruptured diverticula in his intestines.
"My core has basically been torn apart three times," he said.
Currently assigned to a Warrior Transition Battalion and about to leave the Army and enter the civilian world, he is focusing on adaptive sports as a means of figuring out his "new normal."
And although he can't run, at the Army Trials on Fort Bliss, Texas, March 6-15, Crawley competed in rowing, wheelchair tennis, discus and shot, and cycling.
"My new normal is to figure out what I can do, see where I'm at, and improve upon that. And once I know my new normal, push past that," Crawley said.
Which is why he was happy to learn that performance experts from the Army's Ready and Resilient or R2 Performance Centers would be working with athletes at the Army Trials.
"They are there to help you with your mental game, getting you into the right mindset to be an elite athlete," Crawley said.
The more than 100 wounded, ill, or injured athletes who attended the Army Trials were hoping to earn a spot on Team Army, and get the chance to compete against athletes from other services during the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Tampa, Florida, June 21-30.
The performance experts, who arrived at the Army Trials from the Fort Riley, Fort Stewart, Fort Jackson, Fort Gordon, Fort Bragg, Camp Parks and Fort Bliss R2 Performance Centers, worked with both the sports teams and with individual athletes.
Susan Goodman, a performance expert with the Fort Bragg R2PC said she attended team practices and did one-on-one coaching. She started with some team building exercises for the teams and then taught the athletes mental skills to achieve optimum performance.
In this competitive sports setting, Goodman said the PEs focused on teaching skills that will enable the athletes to perform consistently under pressure. With her athletes, she focused on helping them manage their nerves before an event.
"When they start thinking about the competition, they get the butterflies in their stomach. We tell them it's not a bad thing to think: 'I'm nervous, it's just my body getting ready to perform. I'm going to make those butterflies fly in the formation I want them to,'" Goodman said.
She also worked with her athletes to improve their mental focus. One technique she taught was mental imagery. Retired Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson, already a top-rated Paralympic shooter, was still able to use the skills taught by the PEs.
Olson, who served as an instructor in the Army marksmanship unit, competed in several sports, including archery, at the trials. While he did not have a lot of experience with archery, he said, but with the help of his PE, he did a lot of visual imagery practice.
Goodman said she encouraged him to visualize his event, picture what he did wrong, correct the errors in his mind and re-visualize himself doing it correctly.
"It does become second nature, it does become muscle memory. You can still practice good habits using visual imagery," Olson said. Other useful techniques he learned from the PEs was using cue words to remind himself to go easy and engaging in positive self-talk when things didn't go right, he said.
On match day, when his mind kept trying to wander, Olson said his performance expert came up to him throughout the event and gave him little reminders to "go easy."
"She was able to get me back and focus and just worry about what I was doing, one shot at a time," Olson said. And it worked because he made Team Army and is going to the Warrior Games.
Crawley, who also made Team Army, worked with a performance expert from the Fort Jackson R2PC and took gold in the cycling road race and the individual time trial at Fort Bliss. But he said the skills the wounded warriors learned from the performance experts go beyond sports at the Army Trials and the Warrior Games.
One technique he learned from his PE was finding his "why," his reason for doing what he is doing. He said he wrote down his "why" on a 3X5 card that he keeps in his room and looks at every morning.
"You can apply this in daily life, if you have a goal [that is] job oriented you can stay focused," Crawley said.
"[My why] is getting back to myself, and surpassing it exponentially. I read that multiple times a day," he said. "I think it will help me be able to focus on my next career and next set of goals."