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VFW Magazine August 2016 : Page 32

UNCONQ Wounded Service Members and Veterans Display Fighting Spirit in Sporting Event The Invictus Games in May included a VFW member who found redemption in athletics and religion. B Y K ARI W ILLIAMS D 32 • VFW ouble amputee Timothy Payne came away from the 2016 Invictus Games with four medals—two gold, one silver and two bronze. But for the man who says he made a bargain with God on the bat-tlefield, it’s not about the medals. It’s about trying to motivate his fellow soldiers. “I know what I saw when I got blown up,” said Payne, who lost both of his legs on July 3, 2011, in Afghanistan, after an improvised explosive device went off below him. “I died so many times, and when I started searching, everything just started making total sense, and then I started praying for the Holy Spirit. It was like an invisible bucket of water just • AUGUST 2016 splashed over me.” Before deploying to Afghanistan in 2011 with the 3rd Sqd., 1st Plt., D Co., 1st Bn., 32nd Inf., 10th Mtn. Div., Staff Sgt. Payne realized he could lose many men and did not want to live with survivor’s guilt. During the deployment, Payne killed a mem-ber of the Taliban. “That’s when this voice came to me [and said], ‘You live by the sword, you die by the sword,’ ” said Payne, whose men all survived. Before he could respond, Payne said the voice told him he killed his fellow man and would “pay for it.” Payne responded: “ ‘I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll read your word, spread your word.’ ”

Unconquered

Kari Williams

Wounded Service Members and Veterans Display Fighting Spirit in Sporting Event

The Invictus Games in May included a VFW member who found redemption in athletics and religion.

Double amputee Timothy Payne came away from the 2016 Invictus Games with four medals—two gold, one silver and two bronze. But for the man who says he made a bargain with God on the battlefield, it’s not about the medals. It’s about trying to motivate his fellow soldiers.

“I know what I saw when I got blown up,” said Payne, who lost both of his legs on July 3, 2011, in Afghanistan, after an improvised explosive device went off below him. “I died so many times, and when I started searching, everything just started making total sense, and then I started praying for the Holy Spirit. It was like an invisible bucket of water just splashed over me.”

Before deploying to Afghanistan in 2011 with the 3rd Sqd., 1st Plt., D Co., 1st Bn., 32nd Inf., 10th Mtn. Div., Staff Sgt. Payne realized he could lose many men and did not want to live with survivor’s guilt. During the deployment, Payne killed a member of the Taliban.

“That’s when this voice came to me [and said], ‘You live by the sword, you die by the sword,’ ” said Payne, whose men all survived.

Before he could respond, Payne said the voice told him he killed his fellow man and would “pay for it.” Payne responded: “ ‘I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll read your word, spread your word.’ ”

“That was the bargain,” said Payne, a life member of VFW Post 5861 in Elma, N.Y.

The next day, the IED detonated, leading him on a journey in which he battled medication addiction, depression and suicide and, ultimately, found religion.

The 2016 Invictus Games gold medalist joined more than 100 U.S.athletes—51 of whom earned gold medals—and more than 500 military/veteran-athletes from 14 additional countries for the second games, held this past May in Orlando, Fla.

SOURCE OF INSPIRATION

The Invictus (meaning “unconquered”) Games, started in 2014 by British Prince Harry after he attended the 2013 Warrior Games, provide an opportunity for wounded, injured and ill war veterans and those currently serving their countries to compete in adaptive sports.

Prince Harry himself served two tours in Afghanistan (2007 and 2012-13) as a troop commander and helicopter pilot. He retired from the British army in 2015 after 10 years. He now dedicates his life to philanthropic causes, including working with wounded veterans.

Dominic Reid, Invictus Games Foundation managing director, said Prince Harry made the games international because he realized the issue of the wounded “was a very, very broad problem.”

In its second year, Reid said, the competition has grown and some competitors “have gone on to become Paralympic athletes.” Others have been inspired, “particularly in the area of mental health and invisible injuries,” and decided to participate in the Invictus Games.

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Sarah Rudder injured her left ankle two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, Islamist terrorist attack while recovering victim remains at the Pentagon. After five surgeries, her leg ultimately was amputated in 2014, according to an Associated Press report. She competed in lightweight powerlifting, discus and indoor rowing, among other events.

“I might be missing a leg, but there are people out there missing two and three limbs or are paralyzed from the waist down or chest down,” Rudder told the AP.“They are my inspiration. Me just having one leg missing, I’m able to look at them and say, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’ ”

Two-time Invictus competitor and single-leg amputee Will Reynolds, a U.S.team captain, competed in running events and time-trial cycling. The medically retired Army captain was wounded in 2004 by an IED while serving in Iraq. But it was a “car-on-bike accident a few years ago” that led to amputation “at the knee,” Marine Corps Times reported.

“I know with rehabilitation, therapists always put that mark on the wall for you to strive for,” Reynolds told Marine Corps Times. “Recreational therapy and adaptive athletics just provide a new mark on the wall. The Warrior Games and Invictus Games, that’s just yet another mark beyond recreational activity.”

Payne, who competed in swimming and discus events at Invictus, said swimming is “probably the most therapeutic” activity he’s discovered from his wound.

“I’m not the best swimmer, but I give it all that I’ve got,” Payne said. “And that’s what I go with.”

However, his medal count tells a different story, as three of his four medals were for swimming events. He earned a second gold for seated discus.

Payne, who joined the Army after Sept. 11, 2001, to “try to be an inspiration for other people,” said he now tells his story of overcoming the obstacles in his life and how he found faith in God. He has done so at his VFW Post, and in North Carolina, where he currently lives.

“I fought through medication addiction, depression and suicide, and I put a mask over it … and I covered it very well. So I actually fought through it and got saved by God and he washed me clean,” Payne said. “And then I wrote a book all about it. And my mission now is to continue and help other soldiers get pulled out of that depression that they might be facing.”

While Payne said his generation “has really lost touch with the VFW,” his grandfather, 86-year-old Russell Johnson, is the reason he joined.

“He inspired me so much,” Payne said, “and I wanted to honor him by remaining loyal to my VFW back home even though I live out of state and try to carry the torch from what he’s left behind.”

‘GLOBAL PROFILE’

During closing remarks at the 2016 games, Prince Harry said the Invictus Foundation medallions awarded to each competitor “are the real prizes for the years of intense rehabilitation you put yourselves through to be here.”

Through international involvement, Reid said, families from many nations have connected with others who have gone through similar experiences.

“I think it has been a very, very important thing,” Reid said. “I think the other thing is, it does give it a real profile, obviously [including multiple countries] gives it a more global profile.”

One U.S. competitor, Army Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, intended to compete in the 2014 event but went “into respiratory failure,” according to Department of Defense News. Marks, who was working as a medical assistant in Iraq during a 2010 deployment, injured her hips.She has since had three surgeries and is Paralympic-eligible “due to decreased mobility in her legs,” DoD News reported. The outpouring of support she received in 2014, much like the Invictus Games, was worldwide.

“Athletes from every country have supported me. They’ve all reached out and shared love with me on my whole athletic journey and my journey through recovery,” Marks told DoD News.“There’s no country or service-branch barrier. It’s just, ‘You’re a soldier, and we love you. We hope you’re OK,’ and that’s meant the world to me.”

This year, she earned four gold medals in backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle events.

Reid said, in 2014, officials received guidance to determine which nations to include in the Games. The initial countries were based on those that fought together in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the intent to add a new nation each year.

Everyone has “been taken by surprise” with the success of the Invictus Games, according to Reid, who said negotiations are close to being finalized for 2018, while the 2017 event will take place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

“[When you have] the leader of the free world and queen of England doing video messaging for you, you’re in a good place,” Reid said, referring to a video posted on social media prior to the event.

Initially hoping to call the event the “International Warrior Games” but unable to do so because the name is “owned by another entity,” Reid said “Invictus” emerged as an option. He noted the connection to the William Ernest Henley poem with its oft-quoted line, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

“[It’s just a] really powerful notion for everybody to get behind,” Reid said.

Prince Harry also told the closing ceremony audience that what inspired him was “the courage [from the competitors] to make it to the starting line.”

“I know by your nature, you all want to win, but these games are so much more than that,” Prince Harry said.

“Invictus is so much more than that.” The games, according to Reid, have exceeded expectations. He said the stories competitors relay “just take your breath away.”

“The qualities of the experiences the people have had, the extent to which their lives have been changed by it are quite remarkable, really,” Reid said.“I’ve heard grown men tell me it was the best day of their lives; please don’t tell their wives.”

For more information about the Invictus Games, visit invictusgames foundation.org.

Read the full article at http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/article/Unconquered/2523211/316955/article.html.

Vets In Focus

Kari Williams

Read the full article at http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/article/Vets+In+Focus/2524506/316955/article.html.

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