Retired Army Captain Tim Bomke knows a thing or two about adversity and overcoming obstacles. You might say, and so would he, that he’s a late bloomer. On June 3, 2005, while deployed to Iraq, Bomke’s vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on a route clearing operation resulting in the loss of his right leg, below the knee.
“For the longest time I kept trying to prove I could walk away from this, I’m not that different, I can do everything I did before,” said Bomke. “I think getting into the Warrior Games was the catalyst to help me understand, I am not the same person I was before, I have some differences and challenges but that’s not to say I can’t have outlets and experiences, I just have to do it a different way.”
That long time was ten years. Bomke spent time trying to figure things out on his own and that’s when he discovered adaptive sports as a means to do things differently in his life.
“I encourage veterans today to compete. The adaptive sports program in the Army has so much to offer and is far better today than when I first experienced it. It’s life changing. I didn’t get involved until ten years after I retired so it’s never too late.”
Today’s Army Recovery Care Program (ARCP) was in its infancy when Bomke worked to recover and overcome.
“I started out wounded in June 2005 by the time I made it out to JBLM (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) and Madigan Army Medical Center, medical hold became the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB). It was some of the first exposures I had to adaptive sports. In the beginning there wasn’t much. We started out at a local golf course having camaraderie with other Soldiers and Veterans but learning how to play adaptive golf. I’m not a very good golfer but I took advantage of that! And look how much the adaptive sports in the Army Recovery Care Program have grown!”
He marvels at the opportunity for Soldiers today in ARCP. “It’s great to see these Soldier-athletes compete today. I hope the program, the Warrior Games, and the adaptive sports initiative keeps growing. Besides the friendships and community, the chance to wear the Army uniform again is awesome. When you are competing in the Warrior Games with the Team Army logo on your jersey it’s like putting my uniform back on and it felt like being a Soldier again,” said Bomke who competed in multiple Warrior Games on Team Army as well as on Team US at Invictus Australia.
It wasn’t an easy path but the married father of two said facing a positive reality is key. “You can battle it for a long time but when you come to terms and accept what happened to you, you figure out what to find to fill that void and how to do it differently.”
Once he learned about Warrior Games, he got to work right away trying individual sports. He says he was always involved in Team Sports but wanted to be well-rounded in the potential field of competition.
“I worked hard becoming a swimmer. I knew I needed an individual event since I was so engrossed with Team Sports. I joined a US masters swim team where I live on Bainbridge Island, Washington. I was always comfortable with swimming, but I needed to learn techniques and strokes and it took a lot of work and I think I grew in that area,” said Bomke. “I won a gold medal at Warrior Games in backstroke and that’s become my signature event.”
Being open to trying different ways to adapt takes him back to the place of not feeling like he can’t do but he can do. “I don’t feel like an amputee in the water. I’m sure we all have different evolutions, but water was a great accomplishment for me,” said Bomke.
Bomke’s accomplishments are many and he continues to make great strides in life and in sports. “I work in our Amazon Web services I’m a partner account manager. Six years at Amazon, other than serving in the Army. It’s the longest I’ve ever had a job. They are very supportive of my adaptive sports.”
He’s not even close to finished. “There were some things that I kind of put on the back burner but one of which is with the Allied Forces Foundation. They go into the Scottish Highlands with amputees. I also want to get back into scuba diving. I used to do it quite a bit when I lived in California years ago. I hooked up with a Navy Dive Master in Key West who is helping me get back into it.”
Bomke takes his adaptive sports experience even further today by giving back. “I played sitting volleyball on Team Army, and I’ve been able to participate in the US Paralympic Organization. I am on the practice team and its great!” He says when he and his teammates are at camps they think of the next generation. “There are kids there watching who are amputees and they need mentors to help them get beyond the challenges, so we get to play that role and help the next generation of paralympic sitting volleyball players.”
He recognizes everyone has their own path to a better life and offers this advice. “Both veteran and non-veteran alike who have experienced trauma, you want to stay on that path of recovery the rest of your life. Specifically for Soldiers today who need the ARCP, they should take advantage of every program available to them. It’s a huge benefit to getting better and getting your life on track. It benefited me after the fact, but I do worry about those who didn’t get involved or stay engaged through the program. It’s there and available.”