By Annette P. GomesSeptember 9, 2019
Monica Southall: The gift of giving back
By Annette P. Gomes, Army Warrior Care and Transition
ARLINGTON, Va. - Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Monica "Mo" Southall vividly remembers the first time she competed in the 2010 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"I was participating in the hand cycling event and my shoulders gave out mid-way through the competition. I just remember an amputee Warrant Officer from the Army and an amputee Navy Master Chief coming to my side, encouraging me and pushing me to finish the last three miles of the race. I believe there was more focus on that moment than me winning a gold medal in shot put," Southall recalled with a laugh.
During a deployment to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009, Southall found herself in a different state of mind. She was injured while conducting an inventory on top of a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, near Forward Operating Base Shank-East, when an ordnance from an airstrike landed too close.
Southall sustained injuries to her knees, shoulders and spinal cord as well as post-traumatic stress and has undergone 26 surgeries with two more pending. She said adaptive sports and events, like the Department of Defense Warrior Games, have helped her with her recovery process.
"I used to sit in my room moping until I found adaptive sports," Southall said. "Participating in adaptive sports and Warrior Games gave me hope that I could keep going, because I realized life is not over. I was very active in high school and college, so to be a participant in something that worked with my disabilities as opposed to working against it was a great feeling," Southall said.
"I am thankful for the opportunity and everything the games provided. It was an amazing experience to compete in the 2010 Games. It was just a healing moment to be part of something that we wanted to be around for a long time."
While Southall reflected on her journey, she recalled the love and support she received from her own family.
"My strength comes from family, friends and my wife, Tempestt, who is my rock. When everything seems to be falling apart, she picks me back up. I started competing without her, but I don't think I could have continued without her, my mother and my aunt," Southall said. "They would come out to the events when I competed. My family is my biggest support and they help me stay on top."
The Virginia native decided she would provide that same support for athletes participating in the 2019 DoD Warrior Games, not as a competitor, but as a coach.
"I received a Facebook message from [Team Army field and powerlifting coach] Adriane Wilson asking if I would be her assistant coach. I said I would absolutely love to take that position. I was introduced to something that is life changing and I wanted to give back to the program that gave so much to me. I have a lot of knowledge and wisdom to pass on to them," Southall said. "The experience and comradery in Tampa was amazing. I was able to share some good advice that I received: Life does not end when bad things happen. There is always a way to overcome adversity. You are not going to be defeated and that is what I tell the athletes," she explained.
However, Southall says her new role as a coach is about more than just the sport or competition.
"This position goes much deeper than you realize. We are counselors, mentors and part of the athlete's support system. We also give advice on technique. It is easy for me because I tell them my story and it has helped many of the athletes to know and hear someone who has been where they are see how far they can go and that future is beautiful. I was introduced to a program that's life-changing so I want to give back to a program that gave so much to me."
Editor note: This is part of an ongoing Soldier series entitled: Where are they now.