Warrior Games Day 6: ‘America needs to see this’
The Warrior Games culminated over the weekend with track and field, and swimming competitions. One inspiring athlete who competed in the events was Michael Kacer. Kacer was an infantry soldier in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. He was the very first person I sought out at the Warrior Games because of a video clip I found of him on the Internet.
In preparation for my very first Tough Mudder race (run in memory of a soldier we lost in Iraq), I had to know if I could actually complete the race as an arm amputee. During my research I stumbled across this clip of Kacer doing the monkey bars with only one arm.
Awestruck by his incredible display of athletic prowess, I knew I had to track him down and learn his story.
Kacer was wounded in Afghanistan in 2008 when a Chinese rocket exploded against a wall inside a combat outpost building. There were 15 people inside the room at the time and two soldiers, a medic and a mechanic lost their lives in the attack. A civilian contractor lost an arm and Kacer’s injuries were extensive. He suffered two collapsed lungs, three broken ribs, an amputated arm above the elbow, a severed intestine (from shrapnel), and facial injuries so severe they had to be reconstructed through surgery. Two years after being injured, he requested his medical records from Germany and discovered he had a six-inch skull fracture on the back of his head that no one informed him of. Due to his previously unknown traumatic brain injury, he suffers from a form of amnesia, has short-term memory loss, and has difficulty concentrating. Kacer spent nearly two years at Walter Reed recovering from his injuries before leaving in 2010.
Despite all he has overcome, Kacer does not go through life lying down. He trained incessantly for the Warrior Games, regularly biking to his local YMCA to swim laps in the pool in preparation for the track and field and swimming events. While Kacer did not sweep gold in his events like he had hoped, his performance was nothing to scoff at. He won three bronze medals in his individual track and field events, a silver medal with the Army’s 4x100-meter relay team, and two bronze medals in the swimming events.
Kacer’s story of overcoming insurmountable odds is one that I heard time and time again at the Warrior Games. The more interviews I acquired with athletes, the more I relived my own story of recovery, struggle and overcoming adversity as a wounded warrior. Our journey back to some semblance of normality in our lives is a very long and painful road that the average person will never understand.
As a fellow wounded warrior at the games, I found myself with the unfamiliar feeling of comfort in my surroundings. It was a feeling I had not felt since I was a recovering patient at Walter Reed in 2007. Despite the fact I was at the games as a civilian journalist, and was surrounded by many who had injuries far more severe, I heard “thank you for your service” more times during my one-week stay than in my last six months in the civilian world. At the Warrior Games, people get it. They did not ask a million questions, some bordering on the absurd or obtuse. They did not debate you on the merits of the war, or apologize for what happened to you because you had to go “over there.”
At the Warrior Games, the competitors did not need to try and fit in or explain their injuries to those around them. If one uses the acronyms TBI or PTSD, or says they are a BK (below knee) leg amp , no follow-up explanation is necessary. At the Warrior Games, no one looks at them strange or apologizes for what happened to them. Surrounded by active duty personnel of all branches, friends, veterans and family members, people understand. The wounded warriors do not need to explain why they did it or why, despite their significant injuries, they continue to serve their country. They understand that sacrifice means going months on end without seeing a loved one, who may return home permanently disfigured, if they even return alive. It is a display of sacrifice and overcoming adversity that should be plastered on television screens across the country, but is one that most people will never see. To quote the mother of four-time gold medalist Marine Cpl. Justin Jones, “America needs to see this.”
As I steered my rental car down the four-lane road toward the North Gate of the Air Force Academy one last time, I found myself in a state of longing, hoping to return to the Warrior Games in one capacity or another. Where I would again be surrounded by people who understand, who do not need an explanation for why we did it, why service to one’s country is so important, or why we continually strive to overcome insurmountable odds despite all that we have been through.
Perhaps the Army’s track and field team will see a new face at next year’s tryouts. Not to brag, but I did pretty well on the 2-mile run portion of my last PT test.