Those with friends or family who have served our country know that the worry, stress and pain do not always end once their loved one returns home. Many veterans return with both visible and invisible wounds, ranging from an acute medical issue to a long-lasting condition.
Look at Air Force Master Sergeant Reese Hines, who spent more than two years in a hospital recuperating from an IED explosion that resulted in nearly 40 surgeries. It was not only physical wounds he suffered—traumatic brain injury and PTSD have required further treatments and may for the rest of his life.
A big part of Reese’s recovery can be found in a surprising place. Not in the doctor’s office, but in the gym. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, disabled veterans who participate in adaptive sports experience less stress, lower dependency on pain medicine, fewer secondary conditions and greater independence. I spotlight Reese because he will be the first to say that it was adaptive sports that took him beyond the traditional medical facilities, to participate in activities like cycling, softball, archery and field events. They even introduced him to his fiancée, Air Force Master Sergeant Kyle Burnett. Today, both Reese and Kyle are competing in the Invictus Games Toronto 2017, along with 550 other injured or ill athletes from 17 nations.
Many experts agree that disabled veterans report better health, new friendships and an improved quality of life when participating in adaptive sports. Adaptive sports gave Reese and Kyle a sense of being normal again. They met playing sports in 2015, fell in love and became engaged playing sports in 2017. They will be married next year.
2017 was Reese’s first-time at the DoD Warrior Games, and he was surprised to end up as this year’s Ultimate Champion. “It’s pretty overwhelming,” he said. “I knew they put me in for it, but I didn’t know what kind of chance I had. I just had the mindset that I would go in and do my best and try hard at each event.”
It’s athletes like Reese and Kyle who inspire Fisher House Foundation to co-sponsor the Warrior Games and Invictus Games. Known for a network of comfort homes where families of wounded, injured or ill service members and veterans can stay at no cost while their loved one is receiving treatment, Fisher House is there to help during all stages of recovery. One of the most important parts of recovery is celebrating triumphs, so supporting adaptive sports events like Warrior Games and Invictus Games brings Fisher House Foundation full circle.
Both the Invictus Games and Warrior Games are more than just sporting events for competing athletes – they are a celebration for families who get to share in the fun and excitement. For some competitors, this is the first time their family is seeing them after their rehabilitation and for some, it means seeing that there is life after injury. Having a family’s love and support, and knowing there’s a whole community rooting for them, makes all the difference to these brave men and women. It is an honor and privilege to see these athletes and their families thrive – together.