“You can never be 100% for anybody else if you are not 100% yourself.”

By MaryTherese GriffinJanuary 2, 2024

“You can never be 100% for anybody else if you are not 100% yourself.”
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo courtesy Ross Alewine)

Ross Alewine congratulates Team US athlete Retired Army Cpl. Tiffanie Johnson on her gold medal win at Invictus Games in Dusseldorf, Germany. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
“You can never be 100% for anybody else if you are not 100% yourself.”
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (DoD Photo By: Mark Reis)

U.S. Army SSG Ross Alewine, right, is congratulated by Silver Medalist U.S. Air Force SrA Rafael Morfinenciso, center, and Bronze Medalist U.S. Army SSG Altermese Kendrick after Alewine won the Gold Medal as Ultimate Champion during the Closing Ceremony at the

2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

FALLS CHURCH, Va.- Infantrymen must have outstanding mental and physical toughness and the ability to handle challenging situations. Reaction time and adaptability are paramount. Retired Army Staff Sgt Ross Alewine lived this as an infantryman. Throughout deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he sustained multiple injuries that took him out of the fight. As he reflects on his journey through the Army Recovery Care Program (ARCP), he is stunned yet thankful for how he got to where he is today.

“At the time of my injuries, I was dealing with physical and emotional issues and felt like I wouldn’t be able to do anything much less be the assistant sports director of the Army Recovery Care Program today- there’s no way.”

He went through 15 surgeries before he was in the Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU). “Going there allowed me to focus on my recovery and not worry about my job. It allowed me to set myself up for success when I got out. When I went, I wanted to stay in the fight. I wanted to go back to being an infantryman. I wanted to get back to my boys, but it wasn’t in the cards.”

PTSD and back and leg injuries landed him at Fort Belvoir SRU, where he says, like most Soldiers, he had a lot of soul-searching to do. “I was lost in the sauce for the longest time. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t walk at the time. It’s probably one of the worst places I’ve been in my life, mentally and physically." The adaptive sports coordinator at Ft. Belvoir, Steve Smutak, who’s been in a wheelchair since childhood, met Alewine and challenged him to play wheelchair basketball.

“I got hooked on Adaptive Sports and Warrior Games and all that stuff. It gave me purpose, vision, and a reason to want to live again,” said the multi-medalist and Ultimate Champion of the Warrior and Invictus Games. Alewine knows the value of adaptive sports and has championed their purpose for Soldiers in recovery.

“It would be detrimental to Soldiers in Recovery without adaptive sports. This program literally saved my life. I wouldn’t be here today; my kids wouldn’t have a father today, and my mom would be sonless if it weren’t for this program.”

Alewine is thankful he followed the adaptive sports route as part of his recovery because he shares his experiences with Soldiers today in his current role. “Being in the position I am in now is even more rewarding. I get to sit back and watch the Soldiers and Veterans come out, start at nothing, and start learning as I did. I was at Invictus Germany last September and watched our Army Athletes on Team US crush it. It was better than any medal I ever won, period.”

Alewine quickly explains that his recovery journey wasn’t just hung on adaptive sports. “The biggest misconception with this program is that many people think ARCP is just Warrior Games, and it’s not. These SRUs have more, like music, art classes, yoga, and soul searching. So, if you want to be the next great wheelchair basketball player or learn how to be a yoga instructor, there are many outlets and resources throughout the unit. It’s unreal.”

He says sharing his experience is one of his favorite tools that allows him to connect with Soldiers on so many levels, from PTSD to leg injuries and more. That’s how he bonds. “I tell them about adaptation from an injury, and we work on how to overcome. We don’t use an injury as an excuse anymore. We look ahead. When this big, burly 6-foot-5 guy comes in to talk to new Soldiers in the SRU about possibilities, guys think, who is this guy, talking about this stuff? I share with them that I’m not telling you this because I work here but because I’ve sat in your seat. “

Much like the instructions on an airplane about putting your mask on before assisting others, Alewine shares his thoughts on taking care of yourself first. “You can never be 100% for anybody else if you are not 100% yourself. And for the Soldiers who say they want to get back to the way they were, I say, hey buddy, that’s not going to happen, but what you can do is get yourself to the best version of yourself with your injury or illness. You will never be the same person again, but you might even be better!”

Accepting help from the SRU helped Alewine embrace his future, and he credits all who helped him get where he is today.

“I am better now as a human being after my injury. You’re looking at someone [who is] better as a father, brother, son, friend, and partner than I ever was before I got injured. No question.”

When he visits the SRUs for the first time, he often tells Soldiers the value of where they are and how to utilize it. “The SRU’s job is to give you the toolbox to find your way forward. It’s your job as the Soldier to utilize those tools to better yourself. I can bring you a toolbox with all the right tools to fix your car, but if you don’t pick up that wrench and turn it, the car won’t work.”

Along with setting yourself up for success on day one, Alewine encourages daily challenges for success.

“Challenge yourself and make yourself uncomfortable at least once a day. Get up every day, make your bed, get out, and do something every day, and I promise you six months from now, it will be better. You will look back and say look at me now; I’m out here kicking butt on top of the world.”