News: Wounded body, warrior spirit: Lance Cpl. Chuck Sketch
Story by Lance Cpl. Chelsea Anderson
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Wounded Body Warrior Spirit is a profile series originally appearing on the Marines Blog (marines.dodlive.mil). With more than 300 Wounded Warriors competing for a spot on the All-Marine Team at the Warrior Games in May, Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers is highlighting some of those individual stories.
With no legs to steady himself, Lance Cpl. Chuck Sketch maps out a path with his hands and carefully lowers himself into the water. He positions himself along the edge of the lane before ducking under the water and swimming the length of the pool. Each time Sketch comes up for a breath, his hand reaches for the lane line. Grabbing the lane line to pull yourself forward isn’t allowed in swimming competitions, but Sketch isn’t using the lines as an advantage, only as a guide. He has to touch them to get his bearing – Sketch is blind.
Being blind, being a bilateral amputee … this doesn’t keep Sketch out of the water. He is a Wounded Warrior.
At first glance, many assume Sketch received his injuries while serving in a combat zone. Sketch, however, never served overseas. Instead, while Sketch was on leave before heading to his first duty station, doctors discovered a benign tumor on the side of his head. In four and a half years, that tumor turned cancerous, claiming his sight and later both of his legs due to blood clots.
In a short time, things that had once been so easy for Sketch suddenly looked impossible. But Sketch couldn’t be kept down. He is joining more than 300 other wounded Marines, veterans and allies to compete in the 2012 Marine Corps Trials at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Sketch, a second-year competitor, will be participating in the 50m and 100m freestyle swim, rifle marksmanship, and hand-biking.
After speaking with Sketch for just a few minutes, it was evident that, for Sketch, the sky is the limit.
Q: How does it feel for you to be in the water, preparing to swim in the 2012 Marine Corps Trials?
A: It feels awesome. If I’m not doing this, or not doing something physical, then my life is sitting in a chair. It’s wonderful to be in the water, racing against other Marines.
Q: What is it like competing against other Wounded Warriors at the trials?
Q: In the actual Warrior Games, it’s a whole lot easier than the trials because you’re just going against the Army. They’re there because they have a light duty chit or something like that, but here we’ve got Marines tough as nails and they’ll kick your butt unless you try really hard. Also, some of the allies are just incredible. This is a total dream.
Q: Which of the events in the trials is your favorite?
A: I think if I have a good partner, cycling is probably my favorite because you can really get going fast on that thing. It’s really fun attacking the hills and then when you’re at the top, screaming down them.
Q: What does being a ‘Wounded Warrior’ mean to you?
A: Being a Wounded Warrior means, although you’re not exactly where you want to be, things totally rock. It means getting knocked down hard and getting right back up again. And performing as well or better than you did before.
Q: How does it feel to still be able to participate in sports?
A: It means so much more to be a Wounded Warrior and be involved in sports because just to get to the point where you can do sports, you have to do so much.
Q: Do you feel like being wounded has held you back at all?
A: No, I’ve definitely been able to overcome my injuries. In all honesty, people who have all their limbs are missing out. If I had all my limbs, I never would have had these opportunities. This means so much more.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: For the future, I’d like to get into the Paralympics in 2016. They’re adding a couple of new sports: paracanoeing, parakayaking and paratriathlon. I want to see if I can make the Paralympic triathlon team. Hopefully I can work something out so that I can adhere to their rules.