SUMTER, S.C. - Less than a year ago Spc. Christopher Hemwall, a Monroe, Mich. native and an infantryman currently stationed at the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., was shot three times while deployed to Afghanistan.
Unable to walk, Hemwall’s competitive nature took a blow, until he met a soldier who showed him he could still compete.
Hemwall and fellow wounded, ill and injured soldiers and veterans traveled from around the globe to Sumter, S.C., to attend the first Warrior Transition Command archery clinic with hopes of earning a place on the 2012 Warrior Games Army archery team. The team will compete at this year’s games, now in its third year, in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 30 through May 5.
Just days after he was wounded, Hemwall was taken to WRNMMC. Shortly after being released to outpatient care Hemwall, met two soldiers returning from last year’s competition.
“One of them only had one arm and he won (a medal) in marksmanship,” Hemwall said. “He had one arm and shot marksmanship with a rifle.”
When the two soldiers met Hemwall asked questions about the competition and the training, eventually picking up a bow, with his aim set on this year’s games.
“I had been struggling a lot with self-esteem issues,” 22-year-old Hemwall said. “I had gained a lot of weight and wasn’t able to work out. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything, be active anymore. I spent the first seven months in a wheelchair wondering if I was ever going to be able to walk again.”
The Warrior Transition Command’s Adaptive Reconditioning program clinics are conducted to prepare soldiers to use adaptive sports and reconditioning activities to play major roles in the recovery and healing process.
“This is set up and designed for rehabilitation, physical therapy, mental therapy, self awareness, building confidence - helping our Soldiers come back,” said Warrior Games Army archery coach Steven Coleman.
Coleman first became involved with the program two years ago while stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Coleman volunteered to run the archery program and Skookum Archery Club gave the soldiers time on the range.
“It’s very rewarding and gratifying to get to do this,” said Coleman, a retired sergeant first class. “You have soldiers that want to do it, and want to learn. If they want to make time, I’ll give them time.”
The four-day clinic, the first archery clinic to be offered to the soldiers, prepared them for competition by taking them out of their comfort zone; flying or driving thousands of miles from other countries and states, changing time zones and being shoulder-to-shoulder on the firing line.
A second clinic is scheduled for March. To be able to provide these clinics for the soldiers, Coleman arranged with the American Legion Post 15 for the use of the agricultural building at the Sumter County Fairgrounds, donations and sponsorship from local organizations, as well as emergency medical support from Third Army/ARCENT.
“It really is a privilege to be out here,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Brown, Third Army/ARCENT operations non-commissioned officer. “These Soldiers demonstrate that they can compete and overcome whatever injuries they may have. It's a really great thing to see."
Standing by his side and helping Hemwall overcome his injuries is his wife, Valerie Hemwall.
“Doing all of this is good for them, to get out and have fun,” Valerie Hemwall said. “They help each other. It has been great to see him and other Soldiers from Walter Reed participate.”
The WRNMMC WTU is one of 29 WTUs at major Army posts, camps and stations serving wounded, ill and injured soldiers.
“I’m not only doing this for myself but also, for the two guys we lost over there who were really close friends of mine,” Christopher Hemwall said. “I am living for all three of us now.”
The Warrior Games consist of athletes from the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Special Operations competing for gold in archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball, shooting, swimming, track and field, and sitting volleyball.
This year’s Army archery team will be chosen by WTC with recommendations from Coleman in April, but attending the clinics does not guarantee soldiers the opportunity to compete at the games.
“There’s no more of the one sport athlete where I may be the ace in archery but if you can’t do another sport, you’re not going,” Coleman said.
Coleman has put a lot of effort into coordinating this clinic and training the soldiers, but he says it is well worth it.
“These soldiers and veterans have had to overcome many obstacles, injuries and personal sacrifices. They make me proud to be involved with them and of course, with the sport of archery,” said Coleman.