If you have ever been a part of an athletic team, you have probably attended a paper plate ceremony or two. Sometimes they take place on the bus ride home after a meet/ game, sometimes the plates are given out at the end of the year banquet. Whatever the time and place, it was always my favorite part of the season.
A paper plate award is a way to recognize exactly what makes each team member unique and integral to the group, from silly things like "best beard," to serious commendations like "best work ethic." Obviously, they don't carry the same tangible value as a Paralympic gold medal or a Purple Heart, but I think if you asked any competitive athlete they'd agree on the gravity of the sentimental value.
Here are the awards I would give to each veteran on the U.S. Paralympic team. I hope their stories have as much of an impact on you as they did me!
1. Patricia Collins - Persevering Patty Award
This Army Colonel was home from deployment in Iraq when she was hit by a car, which resulted in the amputation of her left leg from below the knee.
Every thing Patricia Collins does takes endurance. She ran cross country in high school, served more than 24 years in the army, finished the half IRONMAN in a world record (for female single amputee), and she is also a mother. Now, she is representing Team USA in Rio as a para triathlete.
2. Joshua Brunais - Power Ranger Award
Joshua spent 8 out of his 10 years of service with the 75th Ranger Regiment. This will be his first Paralympic games, and he'll support the mens 7 a side soccer team as a midfielder.
3. Lia Coryell - Not Today Award
Lia became a quadriplegic when an anthrax vaccine settled in her brain, resulting in a reaction similar to multiple sclerosis. Though her condition is terminal, she hasn't succumbed to a negative mindset.
“It will continue until I can’t breathe anymore but that day isn’t today. And I’m not going to worry about it. That arrow hasn’t been shot.”
4. Tom Davis - In Full Gear Award
The blast from an IED sent Davis' Humvee two stories into the air. The list of injuries he sustained was extensive, culminating in the loss of his left leg. He learned to walk with a prosthetic leg, and the next day, his daughter took her first steps. In rehab, someone brought him a hand cycle to try out, and the rest is competitive history!
5. David Garza - Dare to Dream Award
Garza suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and permanent paralysis on part of his body from a car accident. This incident served as a catalyst rather than a hindrance for Garza's military service, as he decided to join the military following the accident. He'll be representing Team USA on the men's 7 a side soccer team, fulfilling a life long dream of playing soccer for our country.
6. Will Groulx - Family Man Award
A spinal cord injury that was the consequence of a motorcycle accident may have changed the way Groulx represents our country, but it didn't change his passion for traveling the world and pursuing excellence.
He switched his adaptive sport of choice from wheelchair rugby to cycling in 2013, as the schedule was a better fit for his family. While training full time for Rio, he also fulfills the job of stay-at-home dad to his twins, Will and Grace. Did I mention he names Grace as his coach? Apparently she runs a tight ship (#navyjokes).
7. Seth Jahn - 9 Lives Award
There isn't enough room on a paper plate for words that will recognize this guy. Seriously.
His world travel experience is admirable. The number of countries he's been to is close to double digits, he speaks four languages, he ran with the bulls in Spain, climbed 2 of the 7 summits, and has Mt. Everest and the Iditarod on his to do list.
During this crazy full adventurous life, there have been three instances in which Seth Jahn has come very close to death. The first instance was on a training jump when his parachute failed to deploy and he hit the ground at roughly 75 miles per hour. The second was another fall out of a four story building in the Middle East. The third was in October of 2010, when he was engaged in a firefight with the Taliban and his off-road vehicle went really off road- down a cliff.
This third dance with death left Jahn severely injured, mentally and physically. He sustained damage to his spinal cord, three dislocated ribs, paralysis of his right arm and leg and a traumatic brain injury. Three different sets of doctors told him he most likely would never walk or run again.
His rejection of this diagnosis and motivation during his rehabilitation process allowed him to prove those doctors wrong, and he is now co-captain of the men's 7 a side soccer team.
8. John Joss - Best Shot at a Medal Award
Get it, best shot?
While serving in Iraq in 2007, Joss lost part of his right leg when several vehicles in his convoy were hit by IEDs detonated on command. This attack didn't deter his service, as he remained in the Army and adapted to a prosthetic leg.
This sergeant is no newbie to shooting; he grew up in Texas loving the sport of hunting. He was approached to try out for the team, and success swiftly followed.
He has had an impressive list of accolades since making the team, which puts a bit of a target on his back. Other competitors are surely gunning for him. I'll stop..
9. John Kremer - Marky Mark Award
John spent 9 years in the U.S. Navy as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, until a landmine caused him to lose both of his legs below the knee. He captained the U.S. sitting volleyball team during the 2014 Invictus games, leading the funky bunch to a silver medal. He identifies Mark Wahlberg as his top choice in who he'd like to play him in a movie (great pick). Hopefully he'll be feeling the good vibrations down in Rio!
10. Michael Lukow - Comeback Kid Award
Archery was a part of Lukow's rehabilitation process, after an explosion in Iraq took his right leg in 2008. He noted that archery wasn't something that he picked up easily.
Lukow was edged out in the trials for the 2012 London Games, and being someone who doesn't like to lose, this underdog made it a mission to make the team for Rio. Bullseye!
11. Angela Madsen - Best Spirit Award
"Since my failed back surgery, I have the most fantastic life!"
If I had time to list the extent of the vicissitudes Angela has faced in her lifetime, that is the last quote you'd expect to come from her. At one point, a physician told her that "her physical condition was a waste of human life." She's also struggled with unemployment, homelessness, breast cancer, and depression, but chooses to say, "I have more blessings now to count than I will ever suffer losses." The light that Angela shines through her positivity, the help that she provides through RowofLife, and the message she sends through her perseverance in adaptive sports is exemplary.
12. Elizabeth Marks - Making Waves Award
This combat medic not only sustained an injury while on deployment, she also battled a lung disease that nearly killed her. She is a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, and her acceptance speech of the Pat Tillman Service Award at the ESPYS has put her in the spotlight as a face for the Paralympic movement. I'm excited to see how far she goes, in and out of the pool.
13. Scott Martin - Dashing Mustache Award
Does Scott's magnificent mustache give him wings? Because he is dangerously fast.
Martin became a Marine following high school and served three tours to Iraq. Martin was awarded a Purple Heart after his Humvee hit an IED, and he heroically helped his team members to safety. On his very first day back in action after that, his Humvee hit yet another IED.
Scott discovered that cycling greatly alleviated the weight of the effects from his blast injuries. He competed in the very first Warrior Games in 2010. Six years later, and he's on his way to Rio!
14. Kari Miller - Kari the Torch Award
Kari Miller is the epitome of a role model. She was getting prepared for officer training school when a drunk driver smashed into her car, causing her to lose both of her legs. She started out playing wheelchair basketball, and then joined the U.S. Paralympics Women’s Sitting Volleyball National Team in 2006. When she's not helping Team USA win silver in both Beijing and London, she's working with the Paralympic Military Program at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. There, she shows other wounded vets how adaptive sports can help them in recovery and quality of life.
15. Shawn Morelli - #Goals Award
An IED damaged Morelli's nerves, neck, brain, and left eye. The Warrior Games helped her integrate into the sport of cycling, where she was able to strengthen her body and mind. She now mentors young kids in her spare time on the importance of goal setting.
16. Dan Regan - Sitting the Bar Award
Dan served in the Army for 12 years, and lost his right leg during a boating accident. He started playing sitting volleyball in 2006. In 2011, he was named USA Volleyball Male Sitting Athlete of the Year, sitting the bar high for his teammates.
17. Oz Sanchez - Most Likely to Become President Award
If you looked up BAMF in an online dictionary, you'd see a link for Oz Sanchez's resume. His impressive military career began with joining the Marine Corps Special Operations forces, followed by training as a scout sniper, and eventually earning a spot in the Navy BUDS training program with hopes of becoming a Navy Seal.
Before he could begin training, he was in a hit and run motorcycle accident that left him with a spinal cord injury involving paralysis and neurological complications. After this accident, he resolved to redefine himself and "Know No Limits." He got a degree in Business Administration and a minor in communications, and he has been one of the official ambassador athletes for both the U.S. Paralympics Committee and The Hartford Financial Services Group.
He will compete in Rio on the Para Cycling team.
18. Jese Schag - All Around Award
Jese Schag's right leg was amputated after a motorcycle accident in 2009. He got involved with the Warrior Games shortly after, and dominated in the 2010 games in several sports. He won gold in sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball, and bronze in swimming. The "All Around" in this award doesn't include gymnastics, though I bet he'd excel at that too!
19. Scot Severn - Struck by Lightning Award
You may think that award title is alluding to something, but it's not. Scot Severn was literally struck by lightning in 1989. Nerve damage left him an "incomplete quadriplegic," and this will be his third Paralympic games. He may have been struck by lightning, but you can rely on him to bring the thunder on the field side of track and field.
20. Jennifer Schuble - When Life Gives You Lemons Award
Jennifer is no stranger to adversity. While she was attending West Point, where she was a varsity athlete in 3 different sports, she suffered a TBI during a hand to hand combat class. Later, in 2004, she suffered additional TBI in a car accident, and was subsequently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Though her injury affects her balance, stamina, and motor functions, she excels in para cycling, proving she can handle anything that life throws at her.
21. Andre Shelby - Laser Focus Award
Andre's success is largely due to his supreme mental attitude under pressure and his focus, which he credits to his military experience. He served in the Navy for 18½ years, retiring after a motorcycle accident confined him to a wheelchair.
22. Gavin Sibayan - The Veteran Veteran Award
Gavin served in the Army for six years and was involved in three separate IED incidents, the last one resulting in a traumatic brain injury.
He dove right into competitive sports after that. He won four gold medals in the 2010 Warrior Games in swimming, played for team USA in the 2012 London games, and was the 2014 U.S. Soccer Disabled Athlete of the Year. This well seasoned vet brings a lot of experience to the team!
23. Josh Smith - Achilles Heel Award
This marine served from 2005-2015, to include a tour in Fallujah, Iraq from 2008-2009.
In 2013, he was involved in a firearms accident in which a shotgun bullet severed his Achilles tendon and damaged several other parts of his leg. He decided to have the leg amputated when doctors deemed it unlikely that it would heal correctly.
In Greek mythology, the heel of Achilles was said to be the only vulnerable part of his body, since he was dipped in some magic water by some magic stick god. Anyway, Josh's lack of one Achilles heel is a testament to his integral role on the sitting volleyball team. His position is middle hitter, and I'm sure he'll show no weakness or vulnerability to the teams opponents in Rio.
24. Brad Snyder - Best Eyes Award
Brad doesn't technically have eyes, but he still gets this award for his determined perspective and sanguine outlook on life. He proves that vision is more than what you see. Also, his prosthetic eyes were painted to match my own blue eyes, so in a way I'm giving this award to myself. #humblebrag
25. Melissa Stockwell - Breaking Barriers Award
“I can really do anything I want to do, missing leg or not."
Melissa was the first U.S. female solider to lose a limb in combat. She was also the first Iraq War veteran selected for the 2008 U.S. Paralympic team. She helped start Dare2tri Para triathlon Club, an organization that is helping athletes with physical disabilities and visual impairments get involved in para triathlons. Her list of athletic achievements is amazing enough, but her steadfast dedication to have a positive impact on the world is what makes Melissa truly remarkable.
26. James Stuck - Ain't Nobody Got Time For That Award
James Stuck spent no time waiting around after losing his leg to a roadside bomb in 2005. He went skiing 5 weeks, I repeat 5 weeks, after his accident. He was eager to try other things like snowboarding, soccer, track, kayaking and sitting volleyball, which he made the team for as a setter.
27. Samantha Tucker - The Holding Fast Award
This Air Force veteran is one of the most tenacious athletes in the bunch. She lost part of her left arm in a motorcycle accident 2010, which led to her employment in a prostethist's office. One serendipitous day, gold medalist Jeff Fabry, who happened to be a patient there, walked into the office and asked her if she'd ever shot an arrow before. After saying no, he brought out an adaptive bow from his car and she took her first shot then and there. The thrill and empowerment of that single shot launched Tucker's Archery career. She started competing, moved to Colorado to train full time, and now she is one of the top contenders in her field! She's on target to podium at Rio. #archerypuns
28. Johnnie Williams - Furthest Distance Traveled Award
Johnnie Williams was just 21 years old when he was in a Humvee accident during a deployment in Iraq. Following his return to the states and his recovery, he says his life went in a "downward spiral" due to alcohol. The death of a best friend opened his eyes, and he resolved to set those eyes on a goal. That goal is to be the best in the world in discus and javelin, and Williams has been steadily climbing towards that achievement. The journey from the bottom of that downward spiral to the top of the podium in Rio is what made me deem him fit for the Furthest Distance Traveled Award.
29. Michael Wishnia - Best Smile Award
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Michael Wishnia's story shows that a wounded warrior's rehabilitation process is just as much mental as it is physical. A serious depression engulfed Wishnia when he returned from Afghanistan, after an explosion injured his right leg.
Suicide among veterans is a critical issue. A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study showed that every 65 minutes an American veteran takes their own life. Michael Wishnia almost subscribed to this statistic, until his service dog, Sammie, saved his life by jumping into his lap, literally knocking the gun out of his hands.
Soon after, Michael found therapy and momentum to go forward in the simple exercise of throwing a shot-put. Not only did the sport provide him with an avenue to rebuild his life, he became really good at it, really fast.
He is becoming a strong advocate for the Paralympic movement as well. He strives to build up awareness for the games and hopes to start a career in helping other wounded vets by showing them "life outside the injury."
I, for one, am really excited to see this face, now complete with a smile, be at the forefront of the Paralympic movement.