FALLS CHURCH, Va- Many know her by the nickname “Turbo,” which she aptly deserves because she forces more into everything she does as a competitor and in life—retired Army Staff Sgt. Beth King first came on the scene at an Army Trials Camp in 2019, 8 years after being severely wounded in combat.
“We were flying a mission over Pech River Valley and hit with a Rocket Propelled Grenade about 450 feet off the ground. We landed, but in the process of coming down, I got tossed around and dangled out the back of the aircraft by the strap attached to my shoulder blades. All my injuries were internal. The initial blast caused my TBI, and my head shook so violently, I ended up having both my jaw joints replaced.”
The Chinook Crew Chief would endure a long road ahead with head and spinal injuries. She says she wanted to be fixed and get back in the fight, never taking time off to heal. “The first 18 months, I had all these symptoms, I had no medical treatment, and I had no idea what was happening. Many thought it was my PTSD and that it was all in my head, but I knew something was wrong.” King retired in May 2014.
After years of physical and occupational therapy, she still had a drop foot and severe nerve pain. She knew she needed to keep moving. Adaptive Cycling became her muse. In 2019, she made Team Army and competed at her first Warrior Games that summer in Tampa, Florida, where she won gold in cycling and rowing. She once told us, “These games are incredibly important to me because they helped me shift my view from thinking I had lost everything to looking for a new way to do old activities and realizing I can still be an athlete.”
And a Hella athlete she became. King competed on Team US at Invictus the Netherlands in 2022, winning a silver cycling medal. “Not many people fully understand the struggles we go through daily and how hard it is sometimes just to keep going when you are facing permanent disability, chronic pain, and such. So, to have this venue with five hundred other athletes that get it and understand you, see you, and value you just for existing it is great.”
King’s done more than exist in the world. She’s a mom to her 20-year-old son Dante; she still competes in adaptive sports, makes homemade soaps, and volunteers in her community, all while managing her still-existing pain. Her ability to be mobile has dramatically diminished, and now she is in a wheelchair. She faces a dilemma with her feet that don’t work.
“I never thought amputation would be a consideration until about three years ago when a doctor finally told me they’ve done everything they could. The only other thing left was this severe step they weren’t even sure I should take. I started talking to other people in similar situations who did have amputations and then those who opted not to. I was trying to get all my research together. After 18 months of this and talking to my therapist, I said OKAY, I can stay as I am and continue to deteriorate or do something. Almost two years ago, the VA put me in a wheelchair because I kept falling and was in a lot of pain when I tried to walk. That was an emotional transition for me. My legs were good, but my feet were not.”
King tried years of spinal stimulators, PT & OT, chiropractic, acupuncture, and even medication that wasn’t working.
“It’s an awkward place to be hoping for an amputation, and at the same time, I am angry about it, but it may be the only hope I have to improve. It’s a lot of mixed emotions.” King is angry that she did not take time to heal when the injury first happened. “If I had treated this earlier, I wouldn’t be on this rollercoaster I am on today.”
King didn’t take advantage of the Soldier Recovery Unit, thinking she could get patched up and get back in the fight. “I was not lucky enough to have participated in the programs when I was out, but being around them after the fact, I wish I had taken the opportunity.”
Like most Soldiers, she felt that if she took the time to recover, the team would be disappointed. Now that it's more than ten years later, she has a different perspective and wants to make it known to Soldiers.
“Accept the help and fully invest yourself in the programs available. Not every program in ARCP will be right for every person, but try to do as many as possible. It's okay to take the time you need to recover. It’s okay to take time to take care of yourself. The military and all its branches do a great job of making you feel like you’re a piece of the machine, meaning you are crucial and needed. So, if you don’t take time to take care of yourself, you are weakening the machine.”
A machine herself, King is always looking to solve for X. She wants to run again with prosthetics and says she will try a triathlon when she can. She also took up javelin throwing, and in 2021, she was nationally classified for the Paralympics. “I fell in love with it; it is my favorite! It’s a seven-year to perfection type sport. I am working hard to make Team USA, and I need to trust the process and plan the work and work the plan…it will all come together.”
To say King is positively turbocharged is an understatement. With time comes healing, and healing requires dedication and hard work. For King, it's also making peace with her new normal. “Sometimes I have expectations about where I should be. I have to balance honoring my disability and knowing that my timeline won't be the same as an able-bodied person. It doesn't mean I can't get there. It just means the timeline is different. I have to honor the body that I have, and I have to put in the work."