Veterans hit the court in the name of healing

WTU Force Structure Soldiers in transition and their families participate in the Horses Help Heroes program (Photo provided by: Walter Reed Warrior Transition Battalion)

By Annette P. Gomes Warrior Career and Transition

Throughout his nearly 25 year military career, Sgt. 1st Class Darryl Jackson’s sports resume reads like a laundry list — volleyball, baseball, softball, football and basketball.

But years of deployments and injuries took its toll on his once active lifestyle.

“I have many injuries,” Jackson laughed. “I have chronic migraines, Post-Traumatic Stress Disease, depression, deep vein thrombosis in both legs (calf), bilateral shoulder injuries, bilateral knee injuries, arthritis, degenerative joint disease in the hip, knees, shoulders, scoliosis, just to name a few. I was really discouraged about playing sports again,” he added.

The Pennsylvania native says that thought didn’t last long and he was determined to become active again. So, while healing at Fort Belvoir’s, Warrior Transition Battalion, he began participating in several adaptive reconditioning sports including wheelchair racquetball.

The Military Racquetball Federation recently sponsored a game for Fort Belvoir WTB Soldiers and veterans in the Washington D.C. Metro area.

“It was my first time actually playing racquetball and mind you I was in the wheelchair. My overall experience was great, it was a good workout, fun, and something I would like to definitely do again. Playing sports builds morale and everyone has fun, whether you win or lose. I’ve even tried adaptive waterskiing, adaptive snow skiing, and wheelchair football.”

Veteran Navy Lt. CMDR and Executive Director for MRF Steven Harper is counting on this spirit to reach other Soldiers and Veterans.

“A lot of veterans have that warfighter spirit, but they also deal with including PTSD. You have to develop a way to confront your personal issues and that sometimes goes beyond a therapist’s capabilities. Once you get your mind, body and spirit engaged, you release a lot of your issues. This sport aids in that release. Wheelchair racquetball is an individual sport but also a great family sport, everybody gets involved and you can create a family unit, “Harper said.

The benefits of adaptive reconditioning sports includes less stress, less dependency on pain and depression medication, and increased independence and self-confidence.

“The analytical skills you learn in the Army carries over to these adaptive sports. There are so many facets to think about, you’re talking about concentration, eye coordination, self-esteem and confidence. It is an absolute domino effect. I remember watching a match a few years ago and a mother began crying because her son was able to get off the couch and participate in something with his fellow Soldiers. She was overwhelmed,” Harper said. “At the end of the day, it’s about accountability. These guys will hold you to a commitment, if you say the clinic will start at such an hour or a game is scheduled for a certain time they hold you accountable –true to your word,” he said.

As for Jackson, he says adaptive reconditioning sports is a life line.

“There’s a need for more adaptive sports, more clinics here at Belvoir and abroad, but most of all it’s about removing the phrase “I can’t” from your vocabulary. It’s about getting up and trying.”