To help wounded warriors return to a sense of normalcy, increase their confidence as well as independence - and simply enjoy themselves - Walter Reed Bethesda hosted an Open Sports Day May 9 in the America Building.
Led by the Orthopedics and Rehabilitation department's Therapeutic Recreation and Adaptive Sports Program, the event was held for the second time at the medical center to allow injured troops to explore the many recreational opportunities available to them, both on and off base, such as adaptive golf, bowling, and waterskiing, as well as therapeutic fly fishing, said Harvey Naranjo, the program's coordinator.
"Everybody does have their limitations, but we try to [give them] every opportunity out there to get them back to what they did pre-injury," Naranjo said.
Open Sports Day brought representatives from more than 15 recreational and charitable organizations, though the program regularly works with numerous others, according to Naranjo. The event is held twice a year - in the spring to introduce summer sports, and in the fall for winter sports.
"It's part of the rehabilitation here," he said. Those in recovery have many options for their future, whether they return to active duty or chose to retire, he continued. "What we want to do is introduce them to an active lifestyle, post injury, so they can maintain and continue being active individuals."
Whether traveling across the country for an adaptive ski trip in Breckinridge, Colo., deep sea diving in Guantanamo Bay, or kayaking in the pool at the base fitness center, Naranjo explained that medical attendants are always involved to ensure the patients' safety.
"Everything they're doing is documented and they are medically monitored," he said, until they can be on their own. "That's the level we want to get them to, so they can be independent."
Since he helped initiate the program in 2002 at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Naranjo has seen the program evolve, estimating well over 1,000 troops have participated, thanks to outpouring support from so many charitable organizations, locally and internationally. "Anywhere there's an opportunity for recreation, they're there. We've done scuba [diving], a bike ride in Israel and Germany, and they're going out to the UK in September."
Not letting his injury slow him down, Marine Lance Cpl. Matias Ferreira is among the many program participants. On Jan. 21, 2011, while in Afghanistan, the machine gunner sustained injury when an IED detonated near him. Prior to losing both legs in combat, he was highly athletic - a football linebacker, marathon runner and baseball player for many years. The 23-year-old explained he also tried snowboarding a few times before, and decided to give it a try with his new prosthetic limbs with the help of the adaptive sports program at Walter Reed Bethesda.
"It was like learning everything all over again," he said, describing his experience on the slopes of Colorado. Within just a day or two, he was right back at it. He quickly mastered the blue and green level trails - and the feeling was indescribable. "It was just instinct, you're out there, you're excited [to do] what you used to do before."
He expressed his appreciation for the program, and seeks to continue trying new activities - the sky's the limit. "There's always a way around things that will allow you to do what you did before your injuries," he said.
Like Ferreira, many patients and their family members had a chance to sign up for new activities during the sports day event and adaptive sports equipment were also on display - like mono-skis and adaptive bikes - and watch a salsa demonstration, performed by a non-profit dance program. Sherry Harris Morganstein, lead instructor for the program designed for service members, explained how such activities allow wounded warriors to be active, while allowing them to spend time and connect with their significant others. Additionally, these recreational activities are helping them work on their balance and coordination - a significant aspect in their rehabilitation.
"It might be challenging, but they're in a safe environment, where they have support," she said. "There are so many wonderful programs for our heroes.."
David Sheehi, who runs a local boxing gym, also attended the sports day event to talk with patients and their families about his services.
"We show them that, even with your injuries, [that] doesn't mean you can't do this again. We have the technology to [help] them. Everything is ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant," Sheehi said.
He hopes to help more recovering service members return to the ring, so, "They can feel like a warrior again, I can't wait to start getting more involved [with them]. That's the biggest part, is the rewarding part." Naranjo shared the same sentiment, having worked in the field of occupational therapy for nearly a decade. Based on his experience, the word "no" doesn't exist in terms of recreation for wounded warriors. "We cater to everybody," he said.
Adaptive Sports Rehabilitation opportunities are available almost every day on base, and are open to all those who have a referral from the Orthopedics and Rehabilitation department, Naranjo said. For more information about the adaptive sports program, contact Harvey Naranjo at (301) 295-8524, or Tiffany Smith, at (301) 295-8525.