By Sgt. 1st Class Felix A. FigueroaAugust 15, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 15, 2012) -- The thought of a triathlon brings to mind images of physically taxing and grueling events many people might shy away from.
For a select few, however, the need to compete and stand out above their peers is compelling enough for them to participate, despite physical and mental setbacks brought on by combat-related traumatic injury.
Such is the case for Soldiers and cadre assigned to Fort Drum's 3-85th Mountain Infantry (Warrior Transition Unit). Proving they are still governed by the Warrior Ethos, Soldiers of varying abilities and complex medical issues recently stepped up and fed their desire to compete in Fort Drum's first Wounded Warrior Triathlon.
"I came up with the (triathlon) idea as a way to involve more Soldiers who might not be able to otherwise participate in traditional military fitness programs," said Matthew Stehr, lead physical therapist, 3-85th Mountain Infantry WTU.
Stehr said he and physical therapy assistants Dawn Adams and Lisette LaRock make recommendations to higher command on the best overall medical treatment for Soldiers suffering multiple and complex combat-related injuries they sustained while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. For others, injuries sustained came through deployment preparation and years of dedicated and selfless service.
The physical therapy trio agreed that injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, or amputations are treatable through a range of adaptive reconditioning activities that challenge Soldiers both mentally and physically.
The triathlon facilitated that challenge. Participants either competed individually as "ultimate athletes" or as part of a three-Soldier team. Teams were composed of cadre only or warriors in transition, not a combination of the two. The triathlon events were archery, a 4.5-mile mountain bike race and a 1.5-mile run.
"Ever since my diagnosed condition and my redeployment from Afghanistan, I haven't been able to do anything," said 23-year-old Sgt. Jeremy Bowser, a fire support specialist with 4th Platoon, B Company, 3-85th Mountain Infantry. "The triathlon was set up in such a way that my doctors allowed me to participate in a sport (archery) I like doing."
"Overall, it was good to just get out there and be part of a team once again. The platoon cohesion, for me, feels a lot better too," Bowser added.
Twenty Soldiers participated in the first triathlon here. Representing A Company cadre, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Kloss (archery), Sgt. 1st Class Keith Lehman, (mountain bike race), and Staff Sgt. Medamiel Alibudbud, (run), took first place in the cadre team category.
Representing B Company warriors in transition, Staff Sgt. Scott Messier, (archery), Spc. Dustin Grant, (mountain bike race), and Sgt. Christopher Weber, (run), took first place in the warrior team category.
Pfc. Christopher Kalbach took first place as the ultimate athlete.
"I did the triathlon in hopes to set an example for our Soldiers here in the WTU," said Kloss, a squad leader with A Company, 3-85th Mountain Infantry (WTU).
Kloss, who has served for 15 years, admitted he encounters many setbacks while working here that pale in comparison to other units. However, Kloss noted his job is to assist in providing these Soldiers with the best in care, including outstanding leadership.
"My goal was to entice the Soldiers to get out and compete as well as win. My overall goal was to get them to have some fun!" he added.
Stehr, Adams and LaRock are pleased with the outcome of the first triathlon, and they are coordinating for another, set to kick off in September.
"I love it," Adams said. "There were (and still are) many challenges working here, but the upside of my job is that we can modify and adapt our rehabilitative efforts as needed, making it truly tailored to the Soldiers' needs."
"It's great to see Soldiers enjoying some healthy competition, and I think each and every one should be proud of their fantastic accomplishment," said Lt. Col. Celia A. FlorCruz, commander, 3-85th Mountain Infantry (WTU).
"Milestones like this are a memorable way to physically make huge progress back to health," FlorCruz said. "Congratulations to every athlete! Thanks to the staff and cadre, who made the competition a success."
Figueroa serves with 3-85 Mountain Infantry cadre.