ARLINGTON, Va. — It has been a long, hard road to recovery for Sgt. Mary Velis of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in Washington state ever since she suffered an injury to her lower extremities. But despite the challenges, she threw herself back into sports after her surgery, and she's being rewarded with a spot on Team Army for the Department of Defense Warrior Games this September.
"It was excitement and validation," Velis said of learning that organizers had selected her. "All of my hard work paid off. I didn't know what I had done was enough, so I was hoping the little I could do would have a huge impact. And it did."
It will be Velis' second chance at the Games after officials canceled Army Trials last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She'll be competing in discus, shot put, sitting volleyball, wheelchair racing and rowing.
She altered her training routine somewhat in the lead-up to Warrior Games because she will not participate in all the initial sports she was training for, such as archery. But fundamentally, the routine is similar to her preparation for Army Trials in March.
"For the most part, the same muscle group I was training for is the same muscle group I'm training on now," she said. "It's actually made me work the muscle groups harder, because I'm doing the same muscle group — traps, back and arms — in competitions on the same day. So, I'm trying my hardest to push them as much as possible."
Besides the competition, Velis said she's really looking forward to meeting her team since she hasn't interacted with them in person due to the pandemic.
"What I'm looking forward to is being around the people who have been motivating one another," she said. "We have a group team chat, and everyone posts their routines. Being part of that team is what motivates me."
It's especially crucial for her to compete because it's a break from the isolation of training on her own.
"Finally getting to see these people and their accomplishments makes you want to push yourself even harder," Velis said. "It makes me get more excited about the level of competition."
She's learned a lot about herself during this whole process — especially in terms of what motivates her.
"One of the biggest lessons is really more about changing my own motivation," she said. "I noticed I relied a lot on the performance of others. What motivated me then was trying to be the best I can possibly be and show my coach or my peers that I can do it.
"But now I've learned that I'm doing the best I possibly can with the body I have now," she continued. "It motivates me to see the progress I'm making within myself. I surprise myself like, 'Oh, wow, I was able to lift this today.' It's self-rewarding."
Outside of Warrior Games, Velis is looking forward to settling down in a new home she just bought in Washington state near JBLM. She was an athlete before her injury and plans to continue to be one long after.
"I hope I can continue to live that life of an athlete," she said. "I am transitioning to being a civilian, so I'm figuring all that out. My next big goal is to perhaps continue the path in sitting volleyball, because I played volleyball for 15 years."
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.