FALLS CHURCH, Va.- In our first interview of this year’s “Where are they now” series, we caught up with Retired Army Specialist Brent Garlic. The multi-medalist from Warrior and Invictus Games since 2018, representing Team US and Team Army, had much to say about his time in the Army and how the Army Recovery Care Program, particularly adaptive sports, changed his life.
“There was nothing I knew of regarding help when my injury happened. I didn’t have an adaptive sports outlet until 2005,” said Garlic, who was injured in 2000 before a program was in place to help Soldiers recover and overcome.
“I was on a deployment, and a fuel tank following our vehicle through mountainous terrain lost control of the breaks on a steep hill and rammed into us. Garlic suffered facial fractures and a broken jaw, a concussion, a broken right collar bone and shoulder, multiple broken ribs, and both of his lungs collapsed. It was the double compound fracture of his spine and hip that landed him in a wheelchair permanently.
“I was basically existing. I thought my life was over at 21. Trying to find love, a career, being able to drive. I only had the four walls in the hospital in Southern California.”
He had just re-enlisted for three years and was about to be stationed in Germany. “Two weeks before I was to go to Germany is when the accident happened.”
Garlic had dreams of playing professional basketball after serving in the Army. “Everything I learned and hoped for was gone in the blink of an eye. Both the Army and basketball.”
He moved to Atlanta in 2001. “People kept asking me if I checked out Shepherd Spinal Hospital. I went, and they were playing wheelchair basketball. I asked if I could play, and they put me in the chair. After a few minutes, the coach asked how long I had been playing. I told him 10 minutes.”
The coach thought he had played for years and was astonished at his ability. “When I wasn’t on duty in the Army, I played basketball. If I didn’t make the NBA, I would have played Euro-ball or China.”
Garlic said after his injuries, depression set in, and he couldn’t watch a basketball game or, frankly, any sport. He says he went from living it to completely unplugging it. It’s all he’d known since he was twelve. For several years, Garlic played on a team at Shepherd. Years later, at one of the basketball practices, one of the newer players asked Garlic if he was a Veteran and if he knew about the Warrior Games.
“I said no, but I would check on it. I didn’t, and six months later, someone else asked me again, so I finally in 2016 looked into trying out. I loved being plugged in and living that life again, being around military people. I was blown away by it. I went to trials and loved it. I still didn’t know exactly what Warrior Games was or how it worked.”
He was still in a state of depression, fighting weight gain, not knowing what was going to happen. He wanted to work but didn’t due to limitations. “I didn’t pursue life as aggressively as I should have.”
He knew he had to make new choices despite his body's obstacles. All the cants on the list were long, and he was giving up.
“One day at a party, it hit me. I realized I wasn’t living my best life. I gave serious thought to my embarrassment of not getting anywhere after ten years when I had a second chance at life. I knew I needed to fight for my future. I had to tear it all down and start over.”
The light bulb went off, and it was not just about embracing adaptive sports but about embracing the knowledge and proper training that go with it. “By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I had injuries from those sports from doing it wrong, not eating properly, and overworking took a toll on me. I almost had to withdraw from Army Trials in 2018 because I thought I wasn’t properly prepared.”
He doesn’t want today’s injured or ill Soldier to miss an opportunity to improve through adaptive sports, readily available at all Soldier Recovery Units. “I didn’t know adaptive sports was on the level that it was. Had I known, I should’ve been trying out much sooner and getting my focus. I should’ve been training for the Paralympics. You know the old saying, if you know better, you do better. I didn’t know better until then.”
Since then, he has become a personal trainer: “I went to school and became certified. I learned there are multiple levels, so I became a nutritionist. Then, I became an elite trainer and, ultimately, a master trainer. It’s made me a better athlete. Now, when I coach, I can coach from experience and not from reading articles.”
Besides personal training, Garlic coaches a variety of adaptive sports. He is thankful for where he is today and believes he is where he is for a reason. “It makes me feel like my work isn’t in vain when I can help someone through my experiences. It’s amazing.”
Watching the progression of adaptive sports over the last twenty years makes this former tank operator proud to be a positive example of the program's power. “I can’t explain enough the importance of adaptive sports and how it changes your life. It would be a shame if these programs weren’t available. For Soldiers, it's the best thing we have.”
Looking back on his journey as a Soldier athlete, Garlic says it's bittersweet. “I feel like my Army career is officially over after all the Warrior Games and two Invictus Games, but there is always coaching, and I’m ready to help 100%.”
He cherishes his time on Team Army and Team US, lauding how great his teammates are and how far they’ve come. He also recognizes that it was a season. He says the next chapter in his life is beginning, and he doesn’t want any regrets. “I don’t want to hit fifty and not be settled down, you know; it would be nice to be engaged or married with kids. I’ve been so wrapped up in adaptive sports I’ve been married to that.”
For Garlic, being an example of both what to do and what not to do is a role he says he will forever take seriously and wants any opportunity to mentor soldiers facing change.
“I would want to sit with them. I want to reinforce why they are at an SRU and talk some truth. It’s sad if something happens to put you at an SRU, but it is not a death sentence.”