News: Texas soldiers share camaraderie on discus team
Story by David Vergun
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – “What are the odds three soldiers on the discus throw team and their coach are all from Texas, right?” said retired Staff Sgt. Chanda Gaeth, one of those soldiers.
Gaeth and her fellow retired soldiers, Spc. Juan Soto and Anthony Pone, are members of the 2013 Warrior Game’s Army team, coached by Doug Garner.
The other thing the three members have in common are that each of them are wounded warriors, a term used to describe active and former service members with an illness, injury or wound, one of the requirements for being in the games.
The soldiers and coach spoke at a practice session May 12 at the Air Force Academy, where they’ll compete later this week.
Gaeth, who served in Operations Restore Hope in Somalia and Desert Storm, suffered a spinal cord injury in 2003 and also has traumatic brain injury.
But that didn’t stop the 26-year Army veteran from forging on with life and setting goals for herself, not only in discus, but also in swimming, wheelchair racing, cycling and the shot putt - all events she’ll compete in this week.
To assume she’s always been athletically inclined all her life would be a mistake, she said.
“My son told me a joke for Mother’s Day today,” she said.
“He said it took me being put in a wheelchair to find that I was athletic because I never did any athletics prior to this,” she related, adding that her son, Army Staff Sgt. Paul, 25, flew in from his Vilsek, Germany, duty station to watch her compete.
Stephen, her other younger son, called and wished her luck and a Happy Mother’s Day, she said. He’s living in San Antonio where he’s training to become a dance instructor so he can work at his mom’s dance studio.
Gaeth, originally from La Crosse, Wis., now calls Kempner home. It’s near Fort Hood.
As for the future, besides operating her dance studio, Gaeth said she intends to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games. She’s already training weekly for swim and track and field events.
Garner didn’t have much time to chat since he was busy coaching at the throwing chair. The athletes launch their discus from this chair because they cannot stand up and spin around to throw it like other athletes.
The chair itself is anchored to the ground with four ropes and stakes. Athletes took turns stepping up to the chair and receiving five discs, known in the sport as discus.
“Look in the back, look in the front. Bring it back, bring it low, bring it low. There you go! That was a better release,” he said, when Gaeth’s turn came.
She threw the next discus.
“Nice, does that one feel better?”
“Yeah, it feels better.”
And she launched the next.
“Good rotation. Now we’re lookin’ better. Just relax.”
And the next throw came with another tip.
“Alright, not bad, but a little higher.”
And so it went.
Her confidence seemed to be building, as well as her skill with each throw.
This is Garner’s third year coaching. During the remainder of the year, he’s an adaptive sports coach for the University of Texas at Arlington, so he sees the soldiers often.
Discus and other sports are “Avenues to improve yourself,” he said.
His advice to athletes: “I tell them you’re not here as a disabled person; you’re here as an athlete working to reach your highest potential.”
Juan Soto, who also calls Arlington, Texas, home, sustained a spinal cord injury during an accident in 2003.
He, too, admitted that were it not for his injury, he’d probably never have competed in discus or his other events here: shot put, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair racing.
This is his third year in the games, earning gold the last two years in wheelchair basketball.
As for this year’s discus event, he’s been weightlifting and getting good tips from Garner. However, “It’s not about how strong you are. A lot of this is about technique.”
He thinks he has both the strength and technique to win, he said.
A discus thrown from a chair will land less than half as far as one thrown by a non-disabled athlete of equal strength and technique, he said.
But that doesn’t discourage him or his teammates, he said.
And besides the thrill of the competition, he said he’s “made a ton of friends here.”
Anthony Pone, originally from Philadelphia, now calls Fort Worth home.
His right leg was amputated in 2002, the result of a car accident.
Family and team support are helping him through the recovery process, he said. His sister flew in from Baltimore and his nephew came in from Atlanta.
Sitting volleyball, shot putt, swimming and sitting basketball are other events he’s competing in this week.
Pone also attributes his recovery to having a positive attitude and challenging himself every day with new goals.
It’s important Americans know that wounded warriors are working especially hard to remain “Relevant in this society,” he said. “Our struggle is not over.”
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