It’s no secret. It’s very easy to give up and much harder to carry on in times of adversity. Maj. (Ret.) Christina Truesdale has a very different take on that secret, and it has to do with surrendering.
“Surrender is not about giving up its about being in a state of acceptance and grace where you recognize this is where I am right now.” Back in 2017, the elite jumper with multiple deployments under her belt was having issues walking. In her personal life she was a natural competitive cyclist but years of injuries from jumping landed her on a different set of wheels.
“My first thought was I’m going to be in a wheelchair and my life is going to change in a way that I didn’t know if I can handle,” said Truesdale, who was diagnosed with having a tethered spinal cord. Not what she wanted to hear at 24 years of service. After having several surgeries to include a tumor removed from her spine, and two strokes she needed to learn how to function again. Truesdale did that at the Fort Benning Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU), formerly the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), in Columbus, Georgia.
Devastated that her Army career was over, her focus was getting well and back on a bike again. Biking was her muse, her passion, her outlet. It satisfied her need for speed, having a healthy body and that competitive gene she carries so well. She spent about a year at the Fort Benning SRU where she met physical therapists and coaches that encouraged her to try adaptive sports. One of the biggest encouragers was Physical Therapist, John Owsiak, who happened to be the Director of Adaptive Reconditioning at the WTU, now SRU.
“The biggest piece of my success is having had that resource of key people at the WTU who helped me. I don’t think if I hadn’t met them, I would be where I am today.” Truesdale is talking about her journey from adaptive sports to paralympic dreams and a little horsing around, as a veterinarian,” said Truesdale.
“When I first met her, she was depressed and very withdrawn because her whole life changed having been pulled out of theater and to come back to the states to have spinal surgery then stroking during that surgery and coming out with deficits. As she recovered, I convinced her to come out and shoot archery with me one day and it was amazing to see the change inside of her after she shot a couple of arrows. Her competitive spirit was reborn because she saw what she could do,” said Owsiak.
That’s the power of what the SRU’s can do for Soldiers who need to recover and overcome.
“I was sitting in a sushi bar close to where I lived, and I saw on the TV there was coverage of Warrior Games on ESPN. John told me about this. I watched the track competition and all these adaptive athletes and didn’t think about myself in that realm. I thought, I have all my limbs and I didn’t feel like I looked like them but…I hadn’t made that identity shift yet, and now it was all starting to click,” said Truesdale.
As she tried to repair her body and spirit Truesdale recognized this new opportunity would be life changing. “I made Team Army and competed in Colorado Springs at Warrior Games. And thank goodness because I had lost my sense of purpose and Warrior Games gave me a sense of purpose again. My job was still to be part of a team and represent the Army.
It was at the Warrior Games that she realized she wanted to go to the Olympics. “I talked with one of my coaches and told him and they were like, ‘OKAY!’ He helped me make connections and get on the right path,” Truesdale explained about her support from Team Army cycling coach Greg Miller.
“That’s what we hope for as coaches you know to find a diamond in the rough so to speak that want to continue into the paralympic realm. It was exciting when she started talking about those aspirations with us as coaches. We told her like all our athletes not to expect it to be easy even as accomplished as someone like Truesdale is, it’s tough but worth it,” said Miller.
After medaling at the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney Australia on Team US, the determined, now medically retired from the Army, para jumper with a degree in Veterinary Medicine focused on her next dream.
“I made a run for the Tokyo Paralympics; I didn’t get selected and that’s ok, but I went on to win some World Cup events and para cycling events and now I’m training for Paris in 2024 hoping to make Team USA for the Paralympics.”
Watching her grow in this journey, Owsiak knows Truesdale is a force to be reckoned with. “Once she puts her mind to it, she makes it happen. She did not let her deficits hold her back. She always found a way to work around them,” said Owsiak.
Coach Miller agrees Christina Truesdale is the poster child for resiliency and success. “We’re used to seeing high-end athletes by the time they get to us because Soldiers who are elite athletes have a lot of drive and determination. Her drive is amazing. Her recovery from injuries has been something else, but not surprising.”
While training for the 2024 Paris Games you can find Dr. Christina Truesdale working on her patients from horses to hamsters. “I now practice traditional Chinese veterinary medicine. I opened my own practice in 2019 in Portland, Oregon. It’s a slower pace and easier…mostly horses and I have a house call practice. It’s so cool because I get to spend a lot of time with my patients. It’s not a quick ten-minute visit. I seriously spend an hour and a half with a horse, and I really get to know my patients and clients very well,” said Truesdale.
Her incredible journey is far from over. The recovery process at the end of her Army career was but a steppingstone, albeit a big one, to where she is now. Oswiak says it was a necessary one.
“There’s no way her outcome would be what it is today without the Army Recovery Care Program. I’m proud of her and this program.”