If you ever get the opportunity to attend the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, I say GO! It will be one of the best moves that you could make for your recovery. I say that because it helped me immensely. It was there where the acceptance part started for me.
In 2003-2004, I served with the U.S. Army in Iraq as a driver and machine gunner—surviving many close calls. It was back home, riding my motorcycle in June 2008 when I sustained my injuries. A driver failed to yield at a stop sign, sending me into a coma for six weeks. I also suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), a fore-quarter amputation (arm, shoulder, clavicle, and scapula), some broken bones and other injuries.
I had always been active; an athlete who worked out at the gym on a regular basis and was on my way to being a police officer. It was bad enough to lose my arm, my looks, my identity but the brain injury hampered my ability to deal with it too. Believe me, acceptance was something that I did not think would happen.
Some of my therapists at the Boston VA Medical Center told me about the National Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. In 2009, I traveled to San Diego for the clinic with two other disabled Veterans from the area; we were quite a site. I didn’t know what to expect but for the first time since my accident I felt like I didn’t stand out. I was with other injured vets, some much worse than I. I was comfortable and it gave me perspective. I was in an environment where it was SAFE to try some things that I hadn’t done since my accident. Things that I thought I’d NEVER do.
My big turning point was surfing. Of all the activities surfing was the least interesting to me. I had never tried it and I’ll admit it, I hadn’t been to a beach since coming back from Iraq (it was a sand thing). The day that I went surfing just happened to be the one year anniversary of my discharge from the hospital as an inpatient. I was going to make that day count! Being in the water felt good; the volunteers were very encouraging and nice. Something was awakening in me again. I felt my competitive edge coming and I was determined to ride a wave. It took all day but I got up on that board and rode the last wave in. As the saying goes, “If I can do this, I can do anything” and so I have!
Since 2009, I have become a peer mentor for other amputees. I play outfield for the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team, am an emerging paralympic athlete in Air Rifle and am pioneering a new paralympic event; the one arm dumbbell chest press which made its debut at the National Endeavor games this past June.
The Summer Sports clinic has played such a huge role in my recovery that I recently started a new company, “MAKIN’ LEMONADE.” The company’s goal is to inspire and promote a positive and active lifestyle after life has handed you lemons. I will also be donating at least 20 percent of the annual profits to adaptive sports clinics.
Now, go have some fun at the National Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic—you deserve it! And I guarantee you’ll be glad you did! Like I say, the only limitations you have are the ones you make and I don’t make any. Surf’s up!
The National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic kicks off on September 18, in San Diego. Throughout the week Veterans will be surfing, sailing, kayaking, and participating in track and field. Be sure to follow along for the week’s highlights!
Greg Reynolds served in the U.S. Army and is an Iraq War Veteran.