Sunny Side Opinion
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Paralympic Series

"The Paralympic Games are about transforming our perception of the world." - Stephen Hawking

Paralympians Who Found Another Way to Serve

An introduction to the service members of the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team

One of the most cliched pieces of advice given to beginner writers is to, "write what you know." Well, in my first Paralympic post, I wrote about the story of Lt. Bradley Snyder, my brother. That was easy, because it is what I know.

I know Brad's story well because, obviously, I was there for most of it, but also because I have the privilege of hearing Brad tell his narrative at various venues around the country. Every time he tells his story, I am moved, no matter how familiar the words. I am touched by the other glistening eyes in the room and the almost tangible admiration and inspiration you can see spread across the faces of someone I love's audience.

But, this week, I'm writing about something I don't know, moreover, people I don't know. I went through the list of the other military members and veterans on the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team, and in reading their backgrounds, I discovered that Brad's story is not as unique as I once thought it to be.

I mentioned before the meaning of the "para" in Paralympics, but I was unaware of the abundance of parallels among the athletes themselves.

The period of time between Brad's accident and his victory in London was exactly one year. This period of recovery, rehabilitation, and transition into life outside the military comes in all different lengths of times for our veterans, but similar forms of struggle. Not only is the question of how/ will they be able to continue their service a preoccupation, but just adapting to life outside the military can be tough as well.

I remember fearing for Brad when we found out about the extent of his injury, not because I didn't think he'd be able to adapt to being blind, but because I knew how well he fit into the military. I knew that he put everything he had into being the best EOD officer that he could be. I knew how much he loved defending our country, and I knew it would hurt him to not be able to continue his service.

In reading the stories of the other service members on the team, I saw a familiarity in each and every one of them. They have all used their experience in the military to propel their lives after their accidents, and they have found a renewal of purpose through adaptive sports.

Brad doesn't exactly love the word hero, but I am not reserve to use that word in regards to this list of venerable men and women on the team. They are all my hero because they defended my freedom, and now they will be representing my country in Rio, and they don't even know me.

It's easy to get caught up in the trivial matters of life and forget the exact reason why we even have the liberty to get caught up in trivial matters of life. It's easier to remember this, though, when someone you love is overseas fighting for your freedom.

With that being said, I'd like to introduce you to the 29 members of the United States Paralympic team that have served or are currently serving in our armed forces. Each athlete here has a story that touched me, and I'll be further introducing you to those stories in posts to come. One last thing I'd like to say, with every sincerity of the phrase, thank you for your service and sacrifice.

1. Patricia Collins - Paratriathalon (ARMY)


“Losing my leg has been the best thing that ever happened to me. It makes you take stock of things that are really important to you. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of physically challenged people.”

2. Joshua Brunais - Soccer (ARMY)

3. Lia Coryell - Archery (ARMY)

"I am living breathing proof that the human spirit is 100 times stronger than the human body."

4. Tom Davis - Cycling (ARMY)

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"Sometimes I get caught up in the racing and winning, and I have to sit back and reflect: That's not what it's about. It's about being able to tell my story, being able to hopefully inspire somebody."

5. David Garza - Soccer (ARMY)

“To serve my country was always something I wanted to do. Either in a soccer uniform or an Army uniform was always my top two goals.”

6. Will Groulx - Cycling (NAVY)

7. Seth Jahn - Soccer (ARMY)

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“Having the opportunity to wear the crest and flag on my shoulder again in a different capacity was a significant motivation.”

8. John Joss - Shooting (ARMY)

9. John Kremer - Sitting Volleyball (NAVY)

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"You can overcome anything, and my story proves that."

10. Michael Lukow - Archery (ARMY)

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"They handed me a weapon and told me to get good at it. It's kind of my job to do that, so I took it in stride as something that I needed to figure out."

11. Angela Madsen - Track and Field (MARINES)

12. Elizabeth Marks - Swimming (ARMY)

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"When I step onto the blocks, I never think, 'I want to win,' I think, 'I want to pour all of myself into this race because there are people who can't physically, mentally or emotionally, do that.' So it's my way of performing for them."

13. Scott Martin - Cycling (MARINES)

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“I don’t take near the amount of meds that I used to, since I started cycling. It’s helped a lot with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead of being depressed about being wounded and having to leave the Marine Corps, I have goals now and ambitions in life."

14. Kari Miller - Sitting Volleyball (ARMY)

“I go rock climbing. I run. I have to do it a different way, but you just figure out the way and do it. There should be no reason why you shouldn’t.”

15. Shawn Morelli - Cycling (ARMY)

"I had friends who didn't come home.Friends who'll never walk their daughters down the aisle. Or again celebrate their wives' or children's birthdays. I race for them."

16. Dan Regan - Sitting Volleyball (ARMY)

17. Oz Sanchez - Cycling (MARINES/NAVY)

"My motto was 'Know No Limits,' and it wasn't until I had a significant accident of losing a lot of the things that I would take for granted in life, that I really started believing that we can do things above and beyond our perceived limits."

18. Jese Schag - Sitting Volleyball (MARINES)

 19. Scot Severn - Track and Field (ARMY)

20. Jennifer Schuble - Cycling (ARMY)

21. Andre Shelby - Archery (NAVY)

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22. Gavin Sibayan - Soccer (ARMY)

"I have a lot of pride for the U.S. It’s one thing fighting for the country and it’s another thing playing for it."

23. Josh Smith - Volleyball (MARINES)

24. Brad Snyder - Swimming (NAVY)

“I’m going to show people that I’m not going to let this beat me. I’m not going to let blindness build a brick wall around me. I am going to find a way forward.”

25. Melissa Stockwell - (ARMY)

"I chose early on to accept the loss of my leg. It wasn’t going to grow back, so, I had two choices. I either had to accept it or I could live in that constant state of ‘why me?’ "

26. James Stuck - Sitting Volleyball (ARMY)

27. Samantha Tucker - Archery (AIR FORCE)

28. Johnnie Williams - Track and Field (ARMY)

29. Michael Wishnia - Track and Field (MARINES)

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“I was in a really bad place and was never happy when I got back, and Paralympic sports saved my life. It literally saved my life.”

*Quick disclaimer: I did my best to find every service member and went through all the rosters of each team. However, if I missed anyone, I am very sorry and please send me any info on them and I will add them in!

Elyse Snyder