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USA Patriots Athlete Forum gives veteran amputees chance to share their stories

W. Kenneth Medley II • Apr 27, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Overcoming adversity was the theme at the USA Patriots’ Athlete Forum at Memorial Park Community Center Friday, as the audience heard inspiring stories from three players who’ll be suiting up for an exhibition double-header and funfest today.

The trio play for the USA Patriots softball team, which is made up of military members who are amputees. The forum was a chance for players to tell how they overcame the challenges of suddenly missing a limb.

First up to bat Friday was retired Marine Josh Wege, who lost both his legs to a 200-pound improvised explosive device. He is an eight-year member of the team — and is the fastest guy on the team, according to teammate Saul Monroy. He spoke first of the continued service out of uniform for the team.

“We met some kids that were just like us,” Wege said in reference to a kids’ camp the team hosts. “It amazed me how many were out there. (We) bring 20 new kids a year into a softball camp. It teaches these kids to be proud of who they are and to be confident.”

Wege delivered an emotional story that was also light-hearted.

He told the audience it was easier to accomplish most of what he tried, except balance beam — adding that was understandable when one is missing two feet. All the veterans who shared their stories had the same admirable trait of seemingly shrugging away the mental problems that plaque some.

Each also mentioned the depression and post-traumatic stress associated with their injuries.

That’s where softball intervened.

The team started as a therapy camp for some and a way to build self-efficacy. That’s what the veterans hope to pass to the children who attend their kid camps.

Monroy was the second veteran to share his story. He’s also a retired Marine, who had to make the decision whether to amputate his left leg.

Monroy was injured when a 175-pound IED hit the truck he was driving in Afghanistan. After 16 surgeries, he had to make the choice to keep what was left of his leg and foot that he could not use, or amputate and hope for a better quality of life with a prosthetic.

“Mentally you just can’t decide, ‘hey cut my leg off,’ ” Monroy said. “I had already seen both my legs. I expected them to be gone but they were there. So I thought, ‘science is great, let’s continue this.’ ”

Monroy eventually made the decision to amputate his left leg.

Greg Reynolds was the final veteran to share.

He was in the Army and deployed to Iraq once. When preparing for a second deployment, Reynolds was involved in a motorcycle accident during some off-duty time when a car pulled in front of him while riding.

The accident took one-fifth of his body, including his left arm.

Reynolds shared how he had to learn how to accomplish day-to-day tasks with one hand. He noted that how to tie shoes is one thing he loves to pass along to children during the kid camps.

His accident was so severe he received so much blood from donations his blood type changed.

“I just want you all to imagine right now you are in a dream, and you have your worst nightmare,” Reynolds asked the audience. “When you have that nightmare you are so frightened that you can pinpoint when you have a sudden impulse and wake up … you take a deep breath and you realize that the dream was not reality. Here I am in a nightmare, I’m in a bed, I see people around me and I cannot communicate with them.”

Reynolds continued to describe his accident to a silent crowd.

“I was coming out of a coma (after) six weeks. I was given a 1-in-2000 chance for survival and less than that for recovery. I took 101 units of blood and blood products … In three seconds I went from being in control of my life to fighting for my life … I never knew what depression was until my injury.”

Reynolds went on to share how he overcame his depression playing softball for the USA Patriots team and through his support network. He said setting small goals and achieving them as you go to improve is a way to gain confidence.

He will attempt to break a Guinness Book of World Records record later this year in New York City for most one-armed push-ups in one minute.”

The forum included a presentation of colors by the Science Hill Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. State Rep. Micah Van Huss, a Marine Corps veteran,  led the forum in the pledge before offering a few words.

After Van Huss welcomed the team to the region Andy Dooley of USA Softball presented a brief history before turning things over to the veterans to share their stories.

Gavin Andrews, director of sports development for the Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, opened the forum by saying the city was honored to host the team.

“It is all too easy for us to forget the sacrifices every day by men and women of the armed forces, emergency medical services, firefighters and police,” Andrews said. “These men and women are called to serve and protect. For that we owe them a great debt.”

The team will face the Johnson City Police Department and firefighters team in a doubleheader at 1:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. today at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. Before the game there is a Family Fun Fest starting at 11:30 a.m.

The event will feature an autograph signing, military drill exhibition, K9 demonstration and an emergency vehicle show leading up to the games. The event is also free.

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