In 1805, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem celebrating the return of American soldiers who had fought the Barbary pirates. Simply titled “Song,” Key writes,
“When the warrior returns, from the battle afar,/ To the home and the country he nobly defended,/ O! warm be the welcome to gladden his ear,/ And loud be the joy that his perils are ended.”
It's a lovely, patriotic thought. But Key's poem does not address the fact that, while the perils of war end when they return home, many soldiers return with traumatic wounds they will carry the rest of their lives: Today's young veterans have lost arms and legs to roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. How can we honor these veterans?
By helping them serve their country again—this time on the field of sport.
A documentary film, titled “Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing,” tells the inspiring story of four badly wounded veterans who began training for the Olympic Games—the Paralympic Games, that is.
Army veteran Scott Winkler was paralyzed from the chest down in Iraq in 2003. After suffering bouts of depression and a divorce, Winkler accepted an invitation to take part in a sports clinic for injured veterans. He discovered a natural gift for shot putting, and broke the paralympic world record. He then set his eyes on the 2008 Beijing Games.
“I am proud of my country,” Winker says. “I’d fight for it again if I could, but I can’t. [But] I can still compete for my country. “I thank God for me being here this day and it gives me a second chance in life,” Winkler adds. “I mean, for me as a paralympian, it gives me one more chance to put on a uniform for my country.”
Iraq war veteran Melissa Stockwell lost a leg to a roadside bomb in 2004. She refused to let the injury slow her down; in less than a year, she skied for the first time in her life and ran the New York City Marathon. She next set her sights on competing as a swimmer in Beijing.
As Melissa told NPR, “the paralympic movement is all about getting the word out and letting people recognize that just because someone lost a limb in Iraq seven years ago, that we're not sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Kortney Clemons, a combat medic, rushed to help wounded soldiers, and became a victim himself, when an IED blew off his leg and killed three other soldiers in 2005. Like Winkler and Stockwell, Clemons refused to view himself as a victim; within two years, he’d become an American champion 100-meter runner in his disability category. Clemons, too, began dreaming of Beijing. So did Carlos Leon, a U.S. Marine who trained in adaptive track and field events after a serious injury.
Did these wounded warriors achieve their Olympic goals? Watch the award-winning film, "Warrior Champions," and find out. You can learn when and where by visiting BreakPoint.org. Click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to it. You can also learn how you can assist these gutsy men and women who refuse to let catastrophic injury slow them down.
On Veterans Day, we honor the sacrifice of all those who wore our country’s uniform. And we should warmly welcome home the wounded, and walk alongside them as they seek out new life purposes. In this way, we will honor “the warrior who returns from the battle afar,” as Francis Scott Key put it, “to the home and the country he nobly defended.”