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Adaptive sports help veterans recuperate physically, mentally after injury in combat

Published by Caryn Maconi/University of Colorado Boulder on July 21, 2012

James Stuck’s first solid memory after his accident was waking up in a hospital bed in Germany.

Still in a haze, he asked the nurse if he still had his right leg. When she told him no, he broke down.

“That was my most human moment, my most vulnerable moment,” Stuck said. “Since then, it was a constant battle to get back on my feet.”

Stuck was driving a Humvee through Iraq in December 2005 with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division when the vehicle struck a roadside bomb, blowing off Stuck’s right leg below the knee. Once he regained consciousness and realized the toll the accident had taken on his body, the Pennsylvania native, a natural athlete, found himself in an emotional bind uncharacteristic for his always-cheerful persona.

But Stuck willed away the emotions in the only way he knew how: through sports. He spent a year in rehab at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., trying every athletic endeavor he could — from swimming to wheelchair basketball to shooting.

Now, Stuck is a member of the USA Sitting Volleyball Team. The team earned a silver medal at the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, this year, just missing a berth to the upcoming Paralympic Games in London.

“Just being able to get back into sports is the best normal I could get back to,” Stuck said. “Sports plays probably the easiest role in keeping me emotionally stable … without sports, I would probably fall apart…”

The importance of providing a space for injured veterans to interact with other service members who have similar backgrounds cannot be overemphasized, according to Ann Marie Meighan, program director for the Durango Adaptive Sports Association.

The Durango, Colo., based program hosts ski schools for disabled athletes in the winter and multi-day river trips geared specifically toward veterans during the summer.

“People are just excited about the idea of spending five days getting away from real life and connecting with people who understand what they’ve been through,” Meighan said of the summer veterans’ trips…

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