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Paralympians share goals, triumphs with Team Kadena

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kenya Shiloh
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs
Among the 85 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field and Swim team athletes training at Kadena Air Base in preparation for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, five have a special tie to the U.S. military. All five athletes have served in the Armed Forces during their lives, three in the Army, one in the Marine Corps and one who is still on active-duty status with the Navy. 

Casey Tibbs, Melissa Stockwell, Scot Severn, Scott Winkler and Carlos Leon may have their own unique stories about how they became involved in the Paralympics, but they all have the same goal - to represent the United States and bring home the gold. 

Some of these athletes took time out of their busy training schedules for a panel discussion with nearly 200 Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors Aug. 27 at the Rocker NCO Club. The athletes shared their stories and encouraged their fellow service members to remember why they serve their country. 

Casey Tibbs is a U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class. He was injured in a motorcycle accident in 2001 and lost the lower half of his right leg just below the knee. He was allowed to stay in the Navy as long as he met the same requirements as the rest his fellow sailors. Petty Officer Tibbs then became involved the Paralympic Games and has won gold and silver medals in track and field competitions. He also won the 2007 ESPY award for best male athlete with a physical disability. 

Melissa Stockwell was an officer in the U.S. Army and was injured when her convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. She lost one of her legs in the blast and is considered an above-the-knee amputee. She developed an interest in swimming since it was part of her rehabilitation and later found out about the U.S. Paralympics competition. Stockwell started training in 2005 for the Paralympic trials and made the team for the first time in 2008. She currently holds the world record in the 400-meter freestyle swim. 

Scot Severn enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1985 while he was still in high school. In 1989, he was struck by lightning while on duty in northern Michigan. This left him as an incomplete quadriplegic. He didn't have any athletic experience before he was injured but developed a love for sports, in particular, rugby, about five years ago. He also competes in track and field events and earned a spot on the Paralympic team for the first time this year. 

Scott Winkler was a Soldier who suffered a spinal injury while on duty in Tikrit, Iraq in 2003. He became involved with the Paralympics military sports camp where he broke several world and American records in the shot put category. From there, he earned a spot on the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team. 

During the panel, several of the audience members asked the athletes questions ranging from the amount of time they spend training to what drives them to compete in this world-class event. For Petty Officer 1st Class Tibbs, what drives him to excel at his sport is the competition. 

"I know if I'm not out there at 8 a.m. training before the guy I'm going to compete against in the next two weeks, I'm giving him a head start," Tibbs said. "So my drive comes from trying to be the best on the track." 

Winkler said his encouragement comes from striving to be the best athlete and the best person he can be while representing his country. 

"The determination that you get from it [excelling] and being a better person and being the best athlete out there is what you gain," Winkler said. "I live by a motto that 'If you believe, you can achieve,' and we believe we're the best athletes that can represent the United States and we want to achieve our goals." 

Another goal the athletes have is working with wounded veterans and encouraging other disabled citizens to get involved with sports. 

"I've had the opportunity to work with wounded vets at the Balboa Navy Medical Center combat casualty care department," Tibbs said. "It kind of stinks at first to walk into a hospital room and see guys who just had their legs blown off and they see someone like me who's been through something similar and I tell them they can accomplish a goal like Paralympics. I try to show them the steps of what it takes for them to get their lives back to normal." 

Tibbs said part of their rehabilitation is geared toward athletics. One of the popular sports the recently wounded service members enjoy playing is wheelchair basketball. Tibbs said that's probably the most fun they have in the beginning and he knows that soon they'll go on to pursue other things and knowing that is an inspiration to him. 

Stockwell believes that more disabled veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will get involved with athletic events and that the Paralympics is becoming a more recognized sporting venue. 

"I know people still get the Paralympics and Special Olympics confused and that's a common misconception," she said. "A lot of people haven't heard of it before; and before I got injured I never heard of it. Now that there are many wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and getting involved with athletics, the awareness has risen and will continue to rise in the future." 

Another issue that is forefront on Tibbs and Stockwell's minds is the advancement of the technology in prosthetics. Each athlete uses a prosthetic to stay mobile. 

Stockwell explained to the students about her computerized prosthetic leg and the difference between prosthetics the athletes need during practice. "I have an everyday [computerized] leg that I have to plug in every night before I go to bed and it does everything except walk up stairs like a normal leg. But they're coming out with a new prosthetics which would give me that capability. As an amputee, to be able to walk up stairs would be pretty awesome." 

Even though many of these athletes have been injured in the line of duty, they have no regrets serving in the Armed Forces and wish they had the opportunity to serve again.
"I always wanted to serve in the military," said Winkler. "I love my country. If can come back today, I would. Once a Soldier, always a Soldier." 

The team advises members serving in the Armed Forces now to take advantage of the programs available to them and to learn the importance of working together. 

"I learned first-hand how important teamwork is and being in the Navy, it's definitely a team effort to pursue the mission and that rolls over into track and field," Tibbs added. "My gold medal is in the relay and that's a team effort." 

The athletes are focused and looking forward to the upcoming competition in Beijing even if it's the first time for some. 

"This is a bigger stage and I'm nervous, but we have the men and women of the U.S. Armed Services and the civilians back home to cheer for us. Winning a medal isn't just for us [athletes], it's for everybody," Winkler said. 

Senior Master Sgt. David Duncan, Erwin Professional Military Education Center Director of Education who helped arrange the panel discussion said these athletes are an outstanding example of professionalism.

"They were a phenomenal demonstration of how the human spirit can certainly overcome incredible obstacles in life. Meeting and talking with panel members helps people see what a positive outlook can do for someone."

Editor's note: U.S. Paralympian Carlos Leon was not present during this forum. For more information on the U.S. Paralympics, visit