Laura Ortiz gets her strength and purpose from three words: faith, humility and service. These words, and a tireless drive, helped her get through one of the most traumatic chapters of her life.
Six years ago, Laura lost her right leg in an accident. While she wasn’t exactly sure how her disability would affect her, her purpose in life and core values never faltered.
“I felt a total jolt of energy,” she said. “At the moment when I saw my leg, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a part of me anymore, I just surrendered to the idea that I would still be able to live a fulfilling life with the help of advances in technology and prosthetics.”
The fitness-conscious Veteran purchased a stability ball and worked hard on her own rehabilitation. She researched as much as she could about her “new reality” and tried her best to reach out to other amputees that shared her athletic aspirations.
In Miami, Laura is one of the first women Veterans to lead a program called Troops for Fitness. The boot camp style classes take people with little to no fitness experience and put them on the path to a healthier lifestyle.
“I love that I get to use my military experience to help others reach their fitness goals,” she said. “I have fun and I feel like part of the solution when it comes to obesity and diabetes in my community, so it isn’t really work for me.”
As successful as her rehabilitation was, she still found it hard to get past a certain level of athletic performance without expensive specialized prosthetics. After speaking with other Veterans and VA recreational therapists from the Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center, Laura enrolled in VA health care and began working with VA prosthetic specialists to create legs that not only improved her athletic performance, but also improved her daily life.
“It was a huge weight that was lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “Now I have three legs to choose from. It really gave me confidence to have trained VA employees help me do more of the things I wanted to do. My sights can be set much higher.”
A few months ago, her recreational therapists Raphael Hernandez and William Rios suggested that Laura apply to the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. Although she was already well versed in adaptive sports, they knew she would still benefit from the diverse activities offered at the clinic.
Now on her third day in Southern California, the Army National Guard Veteran is rowing out on Otay Lake at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. She’s part of an all women Veterans team and making quick friends with the other members of Team Mercury.
“I feel so lucky and blessed to be here,” she said after returning to shore. “Sometimes we just need a little push. I think once you try adaptive sports it becomes a motivator to challenging yourself. I’ve done things as an amputee that I would never have dreamed of doing before – not even with two legs. These kinds of clinics are great and we all need to keep supporting them.”
Editor’s Note: VAntage Point is reporting from the 2014 National Veterans Sports Clinic, Sept. 7-12. This is the third in a series of blogs from the event. To learn more about VA’s Adaptive Sports Program, and the opportunities it provides Veterans with disabilities, visit va.gov/adaptivesports.
For more photos from day two of the National Veterans Sports Clinic, see the gallery below. Be sure to follow @deptvetaffairs on Instagram for more photos from the event.