By MaryTherese GriffinNovember 21, 2019
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Fake it until you make it. The stubborn factor. I have a job to do. All things U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rhonda Keister says described her journey to where she was training at the Adaptive Reconditioning Camp at Fort Bragg, North Carolina held from November 3 -- 8, 2019.
"I got blown up in Afghanistan in 2011. I can't run anymore. I can't do a lot of the things I was able to do before. I've had three surgeries and I'll have to have a hip replacement eventually."
The Signal Corps Officer was walking when a stray rocket with a suicide bomber's impact threw her and several vehicles into the air. The percussion from the blast fractured her hip and femur, caused nerve damage and a traumatic brain injury. She stayed put.
"I refused to go. I had several young Soldiers under me who had no experience and I wasn't going to leave them," Keister said. "Accepting that I needed help was the hardest part. I have a job to do." She eventually sought help and worked through her pain at the U.S. Special Operation Command's Care Coalition Prep Program at the Veterans Affairs hospital, at first as inpatient and then worked an outpatient program.
While she is soldiering on with her Army job, she knows she has another one, to recover and overcome. She was introduced to adaptive sports. She made Team SOCOM and competed at the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Tampa, Florida last June. "Last year was my first year. It was amazing and very emotional and very hard, but I was just truly blessed to be there."
She hopes to earn a spot back on Team SOCOM for the 2020 DoD Warrior Games in San Antonio, Texas, but didn't always feel she belonged.
"At first, when I tried out in 2016 I thought, I don't belong here because there were a lot of amputees and I'm not as bad off as them, I shouldn't be here," Keister recalled. "And then the first time my legs went numb when I was there and I fell and couldn't get up, I was embarrassed of course, and someone helped me. The guys in the wheelchairs were like 'hey you're one of us now.' I didn't know how to deal with that." She didn't make the team the first time, but did discover she absolutely did belong and found the things she could do
"I just learned about Adaptive sports a few years ago and it really helps. I realized all the things I couldn't do, like run. There's many things I can't do without pain because I also have tremors, I don't sleep, and pain really sucks," Keister said. "Luckily with things like Warrior Games it's like wait a minute…I CAN do things. I can shoot! Who knew?"
She showed her moxie on the shooting range at Fort Bragg shooting an air pistol for the first time and doing it extremely well. She also competes in air rifle shooting, recumbent cycling and archery with a compound bow.
"Adaptive Sports have definitely helped me gain more confidence in myself. I know I need adaptive sports in my life now in order to stay in shape."
Keister is thankful to be able to train at the Camp at Fort Bragg with those who could be her competitors at the 2020 DoD Warrior Games if they make Team Army and she makes Team SOCOM. "It's been amazing to meet everyone and see how adaptive sports helps us all." She hopes for the friendly rivalry at Warrior Games, but has her sights set beyond that too. "Going to Invictus Games would be an amazing honor and it is the next step up for me, plus I want to meet Prince Harry!"