By MaryTherese GriffinSeptember 27, 2019
Soldier turned Paralympian says anything is possible no matter your abilities
By MaryTherese Griffin, U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition
ARLINGTON, Va. - When retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Kimball was standing on a podium receiving a medal in cycling at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru last month, he knew his journey there was not an easy one. His family legacy of serving in the military was guiding his journey, so he joined the Marine Corps in 1994.
"We can trace our family service to every conflict the U.S. has ever been involved in. A life of service to our country is something I was very familiar with growing up, so it was natural for me to want to serve too," Kimball said.
Once he was out of the Marines, he traveled around the country making a living in agriculture, mostly taking care of cattle on feedlots and ranches. During that time, he also tried his hand at being a bull rider. Kimball says he did win once, but he was not at the level of his full-time professional rodeo buddies, so he eventually gave it up.
"After 9/11, I felt compelled to return to service. I had a childhood friend that had died in the bombing of Khobar Towers [in Khobar, Saudi Arabia] back in 1996. I thought it might be an opportunity to hit back at those who perpetrated that attack, and the attacks on 9/11," Kimball said. In 2002, he found himself at the doorstep of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) and soon after he was on his way to Iraq. Years later during a tour of Korea, the married father of two sons, was selected to be a Green Beret, a dream of his he says. He was well on his way until he got hurt.
Kimball sustained an injury to his spine while at the Army Special Forces Qualification Course in 2007. Like most Soldiers, he tried to continue on and do his job. "Had I just stuck my hand up and said, 'Hey, I'm hurt.' I most likely could have minimized my injuries," said the Corning, California native. After several months, he was sent to the Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
He endured multiple surgeries and years of physical therapy, the likes of which he says would not have happened anywhere else. "Lucky for me, the Army had a place to put me where all this treatment could happen under one umbrella, the WTU at Fort Bragg," Kimball said. "The burden on units to care for Soldiers is too complicated. Injured and ill Soldiers need special, dynamic treatment that is the only focus. The WTU's are designed to do exactly that."
During his recovery he chose to include his love for cycling in his therapy. With the help of his wife, Reaha, and sons, Joseph and Jesse, he took every painstaking pedaling movement to get better and get out of the WTU with the knowledge from the programs he participated in for three years and live his new normal.
"Really, I still face my injuries every day. I am not the able, do anything person I was prior to being hurt," Kimball said. "Recovery for me means acceptance. I accept there are things I am no longer capable of. Instead of worrying about those things I can't do, I focus on the things I can. That's how I became a Paralympic Cyclist."
Kimball retired in 2011 and focused on cycling. He has been named to Team USA for Track and World championships every year since 2014. "The Parapan American Games in Lima this year, have so far been the pinnacle of my cycling endeavors," said Kimball who won a bronze medal in the Individual Pursuit race.
He now lives with his family in Montana and is looking forward to becoming a rancher, raising grass fed cattle. He says in all of this journey he learned about healthy eating and that's how he wants to continue to contribute to the world. A world with ups and downs that he clearly has conquered.
"I went from wondering how I could ever be successful again, to becoming a Regional Champion, to a National Champion, to a World Champion. Now I know that it's never impossible to become something great, no matter your abilities."