Marine Corps Veteran Jon was injured while deployed in Iraq.  Medically separated from service after his injury, his life took an unexpected turn after he attended the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

He joined us to tell that story.

Tell me about Iraq.  How you were injured?

We were on a convoy security mission in Nasiriyah, Iraq, and the vehicle convoy took fire from the front and we herringboned. And my driver drove off the road, and he panicked a little bit and we went through a ditch.

I went airborne in the vehicle, and when I came down, I landed and ruptured two disks in my back. And I got medically discharged.

How did you get back into sports?

I was just in a bad spot, you know — I was drinking, and I was taken pain meds, and I was just in a downward spiral.

And at one of my VA appointments, they said, “Hey, have you ever heard of the Winter Sports Clinic?” So I came up here, and it changed my life. It definitely pulled me out of the funk I was in.

It gave me a sense of purpose. A couple days into it, they said, “Hey, have you ever thought about racing?” And I said “no.” And they said, “We’re having an advanced group that we want you to come join, and you get to ski every day.”

And that’s how my racing career started.

You were able to get compensation to train?

Not at that time. The 2011-12 year was my breakthrough year. I got on a VA stipend. I qualified for it.

Tell me, what does that mean? People might not know.

VA sets aside money for elite athletes that train — that want to be at the Paralympic level and train internationally. You have to reach certain criteria based on whatever sport it is.

And mine, I think at the time, it was top 35 to qualify. You know, what I use it for is to help pay my rent when I’m up here and help with equipment. So it’s just a little extra money and incentive to train and represent the United States and VA.

You were the flag bearer at the Paralympic games at Sochi. What was that like?   

The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is where I got my start, and I didn’t think I could do anything. And now here I am getting ready to walk out of the tunnel and hold this flag as high as I can in Sochi, Russia.

You know, I thought about my military experience, and I thought about my friends and family. There’s a lot of things that go through your head. But I remember as soon as we walked up that tunnel, I held that flag as high as I could.

And I’m thinking, “I never would’ve thought a few years ago that I’d be in this position.” And it all started here at the Winter Sports Clinic.

And that’s why I’m such a huge advocate for VA. I try to tell people all the time what the VA has done for me. And not everyone wants to be at a level that I’m at.

But get off your couch. Get involved in some of the sport clinics. Get involved in some of the things that go around in your area and get around other Veterans. It’s therapy.

The mission of any of these clinics is just show people that they can do it. I remember coming here thinking, “There’s no way I can do that. There’s no way I can do that.”

And now I have the ability of “I’m going to try it. And if I can’t do it, I’ll find a way to do it.” I come as many times as I can to this clinic when I don’t have competitions.

It’s where I started. It’s where I got my identity back. And so if I can meet one or two people during this week that are in the same spot I was or just be a good mentor, that’s why I come back.

I come back to give back to those that gave to me.

Listen to Jon’s Story here and share it on social media.

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By Bronwyn Emmet is a public affairs specialist with the National Veterans Outreach Office.

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Published on Aug. 28, 2021

Estimated reading time is 3.7 min.

Views to date: 486

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