Cheer On These Military Paralympians As They Go for Gold

Navy Lt. Brad Snyder speaks at the 2013 Navy-Marine Corps Ball. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Peter Lawlor/Snyder trains for the London games. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Murphy

The Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games might be over, but the Paralympics are just gearing up!

For many wounded warriors, the Paralympics represent the culmination of a comeback from a traumatic event. Many service member and veteran Paralympians have suffered physical injuries like visual impairments and amputations, as well as invisible wounds like traumatic brain injuries. The games give those Paralympians a chance to return to healthy, successful and active lifestyles through camaraderie and teamwork.

As we highlighted many of our military Olympians last month, here are some details about 10 of the amazing athletes competing in this year’s Paralympics, which are also held in Rio from September 7-18:

Elizabeth Marks, 26, Army:

Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, who will be swimming in the games’ 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, the 100-meter fly and the 200-meter individual medley, might be one of the most recognizable of this year’s U.S. military Paralympians.

Marks gained national attention at this year’s ESPY Awards when she became the first active-duty soldier to be presented with the Pat Tillman Award for Service. She also made headlines in May when she asked Britain’s Prince Harry give one of the four gold medals she won at the Invictus Games to Papworth Hospital in London. The hospital’s staff saved her life after she nearly died of respiratory distress syndrome as she’d prepared for the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014.

Marks began swimming after she suffered debilitating hip injuries in 2010 while serving as a combat medic in Iraq. She’s since gone on to break all sorts of records at competitions around the world. She’s still a medic, and she was the first woman to join the Army’s World Class Athlete Program.

Michael Lukow, 30, Army:

Staff Sgt. Michael Lukow, who is also an active-duty member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, is a world-class archer who will take part in the recurve competition (“recurve” is a particular type of bow, if you didn’t know).

Lukow had never picked up a bow and arrow until he began rehabilitation for injuries he suffered after an explosion destroyed his armored vehicle in June 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. The blast cost him his right foot and injured his left. To help regain his balance, he picked up archery. He’s since become an ace at it and hopes to medal at the Paralympics in Rio.

Samantha Tucker, Air Force veteran:

Former Sgt. Sam Tucker will be joining Lukow on the archery team in Rio, shooting in the compound open category. She didn’t begin shooting in national events until 2015, so she’s come a long way quickly!

Tucker served in the Air Force and also spent 11 years working for the Defense Department. In October 2010, however, she was in a motorcycle accident, which led to the amputation of her left hand. She spent a long time in recovery, but that’s not what led her to archery – it was a chance meeting in 2014 at a doctor’s office with Paralympic archery gold medalist Jeff Fabry. Fabry asked her if she had ever tried archery, and when she said no, he brought a bow and target into the office. Tucker took her first shot there, and she’s been shooting ever since. She’s currently rated second in the nation at her sport, and 33rd in the world.

Brad Snyder, 32, Navy veteran:

Former Navy Lt. Brad Snyder was an amazing swimmer when he attended the U.S. Naval Academy, and he remains so now, having brought home two golds and a silver medal in the 2012 Paralympics.

Snyder was serving in Afghanistan in the spring of 2011 when he stepped on an IED that was buried in the ground. Snyder’s limbs made it through the ordeal intact, but his eyes didn’t. He suffered complete vision loss. But just a few months after he began rehabbing in the pool, he was able to earn a spot on the U.S. Paralympic National Team.

Snyder competed in seven events in 2012 and is preparing for five events this year – the 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle, the 100m butterfly and the 100m backstroke. Hopefully he can bring home more hardware this time!

Ahmed Shafik, 42, Army veteran:

Ahmed Shafik’s story is pretty amazing. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1973, Shafik fell in love with weightlifting, even though he was born with polio. He was able to compete in the Paralympics for the Iraqi National Team, but he eventually fled the country because he said he and other athletes had been abused under Saddam Hussein’s regime for “underperforming.” Shafik came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2000 and joined the Army, serving for a decade, including during three years deployed to his native country, where he worked as a translator.

Shafik picked up powerlifting again in 2007, this time for the U.S., and has been a force ever since. He has competed in world championships and in the London 2012 Olympics, and he hopes to earn a medal this year in Rio as America’s only Paralympic powerlifter.

Patricia Collins, 47, Army veteran:

Retired U.S. Army Col. Patricia Collins had a decorated career as a paratrooper, including during deployments to the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. What perhaps might be more amazing, however, is her resilience. In 2006, shortly after returning from Iraq, Collins was cycling with friends when she was struck by a car. Her left leg had to be amputated below the knee, but that didn’t stop her. She came back from her injury to return to airborne status, and she even deployed again to Afghanistan.

Collins was an avid cyclist and triathlete before her injury, and that part of her life hasn’t changed. She’s set records and won world titles as a paratriathlete, and she hopes to add to those accolades in Rio. Collins retired from the Army in 2015 after more than 24 years of service.

John Joss, 33, Army:

Staff Sgt. John Joss has been a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit since 2012, where he quickly became one of the best prone rifle shooters in the country. In his first year in the unit, he was named the Paralympic Athlete of the Year by USA Shooting. He currently holds the American record in two prone rifle events.

Joss became part of the unit after his right leg was seriously injured in Iraq in the spring of 2007 when the vehicle he was riding in was caught in an ambush. Later, he would choose to have that leg amputated. The active-duty soldier started shooting competitively during his rehabilitation, and the rest is history!

Teaching the fundamentals of sitting volleyball at the Rambler Fitness Center, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, Army veteran Kari Miller embraces the opportunity to meet, coach and mentor wounded, injured and ill warriors participating in a Paralympic military sports camp. Even though she was in the Army, Miller has a soft spot for the Air Force as her younger brother, Michael Miller, served as an F-16 crew chief at Cannon AFB, N.M.

Teaching the fundamentals of sitting volleyball at the Rambler Fitness Center, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, Army veteran Kari Miller embraces the opportunity to meet, coach and mentor wounded, injured and ill warriors participating in a Paralympic military sports camp. Even though she was in the Army, Miller has a soft spot for the Air Force as her younger brother, Michael Miller, served as an F-16 crew chief at Cannon AFB, N.M.

Kari Miller, 39, Army veteran:

Former Army Sgt. Kari Miller is no stranger to the Paralympics, having won the sitting volleyball silver medal in the 2008 and 2012 games. Since she’s won gold in a slew of different tournaments over the past several years, her chances of medaling again in Rio are good!

Miller was serving in the Army in 1999 when her life changed completely. A drunken driver smashed into the car she was riding in, leading to the amputation of both of her legs (read more of her amazing story in a one-on-one interview here). During her recovery, she started playing wheelchair basketball, but eventually switched to sitting volleyball – something she didn’t even think she would like. But her athletic prowess said otherwise, and now she’s one of the best in her sport. Since her accident, Miller has become a well-known mentor for other injured, ill and wounded warriors through the Paralympic military sports program.

Seth Jahn, 26, Army veteran:

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Seth Jahn went from being told he’d never walk again to playing soccer in the Rio Paralympics. Pretty amazing, right?

Jahn was serving on his third tour of duty in 2010 in Afghanistan when he was severely injured in combat. Doctors told him he would never walk again, but it was a diagnosis he wouldn’t accept. He went through strenuous rehab and eventually did regain movement in his lower body. Four years after suffering his injuries, he was invited to join the U.S. Paralympics National Soccer Team. Now, he’ll be competing in his first Paralympics.

Angela Madsen, 56, Marine veteran:

Retired Marine Corps veteran Angela Madsen is the epitome of someone who knows firsthand about overcoming adversity. The 56-year-old joined the Marine Corps at 19, only to suffer a back injury and a botched surgery a short time later, which led to her discharge from the service. Over time, her condition worsened, and she became a paraplegic with no home, no job and no money.

Eventually a veterans’ organization stepped in to help her out, convincing her to get into sports at the Veterans Wheelchair Games. She soon took up rowing, a sport that literally sent her all over the world and got her to the 2008 Paralympic games. She decided to try out track and field, too, and won the bronze medal in shot put at the 2012 games. She’ll be going for gold in the same event this year in Rio.

Twenty more military athletes will be competing in the Paralympic games. They are:

Lia Coryell – Army veteran
Thomas Davis – Army veteran
Michael Wishnia – Marine veteran
Shawn Morelli – Army veteran
Jennifer Schuble – Army veteran
William Groulx – Navy veteran
Joshua Smith – Marine veteran
Joshua Brunais – Army veteran
Gavin Sibayan – Army veteran
Scot Severn – Army veteran
Jese Schag – Marine veteran
Johnnie Williams – Army veteran
Jessica Jones Meyers – Army veteran
Krige Schabort – Army veteran
Oscar Sanchez – Marine veteran
Melissa Stockwell – Army veteran
Daniel Regan – Army veteran
John Kremer – Navy veteran
James Stuck – Army veteran
Jeffrey Martin – Marine veteran

Congrats to all of our Paralympians who made it this far, and good luck at the games!

September 1, 2016
DoD News by: Katie Lange