By U.S. ArmyJune 23, 2019
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- For some of the Soldiers and veterans competing for Team Army at the Department of Defense Warrior Games, the adaptive sports competition is about more than winning a medal: It's about finding a new way forward after an injury or illness ended their plans for a military career.
Pfc. Kyia Costanzo tore ligaments in her ankle during basic training and can no longer do the long hikes in Washington State's Olympic National Park that were so much a part of her identity. Spc. Kevin Holyan suffered a gunshot wound at his duty station and now uses a wheelchair. And regardless of the cause of their injuries, their journey to readjusting to a post-military life passes through the Army's Warrior Games archery team.
"Archery is therapy," said Holyan. When he is out on the line preparing to take his shot, he said everything and everyone else disappears. And he just breathes. Then, sitting on his wheelchair, he pulls back the arrow with his mouth and lets it fly.
On hand to help with both their athletic performance and finding their new sense of purpose, are master resilience trainers-performance experts from the SHARP, Ready and Resilient Directorate, who have been working with the archery team since the Army Trials and are now helping prep the athletes during training week at Warrior Games.
Master Resilience Trainer-Performance Expert Susan Goodman, who has a degree in counseling with a specialization in sport and performance psychology, and other MRT-PEs have been teaching mental skills to enhance the physical performance of the team. One of the techniques she teaches is deliberate breathing. Holyan said Goodman helps him get in the right mindset to perform at a higher level, but the deep breathing skills he has learned go beyond archery.
"I use it pretty much on everything," Holyan said. "If I'm feeling anxious, it brings my heart rate back down."
Performance skills are life skills, Goodman said. When athletes make a bad shot, she reminds them to think about what they can control, and what they cannot control. The last shot is gone, but they can refocus on the next shot. That injury happened. It's there. But they can control their self-care moving forward.
During practice, Goodman helps the athletes come up with cues and power statements that work for them individually to help them refocus. For Costanzo, her power statement is "One shot. Best shot."
That statement helps her get rid of a tendency to focus on what went wrong with the last shot.
The tie between the performance skills and the trauma that the ill, injured and wounded athletes at Warrior Games are trying to overcome is unmistakable.
"When people are trying to recover, one of the biggest problems they face is their mental health and the way that they think about themselves," Costanzo said.
She was told earlier this year that nothing more can be done about her ankle and she is now in the process of transitioning to civilian life. Since her injury, she has been fighting to stay in the military, but now that's over. "When that's taken away from you, when you can't do that, it's damaging to your ego, it's damaging to who you thought you were going to be," she said.
But in archery, as in life, she is learning to concentrate on what's next.
"Whatever happened prior to that I have no control over, so I just need to focus on what I'm doing this time," Costanzo said.
The Army archery team and the rest of Team Army will be competing against other service branches and military teams from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Denmark. The 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games run from June 21-30 in Tampa, Florida