Joy of athletic competition revived for Keesler chief

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Damian Orslene
  • 81st Training Support Squadron superintendent
Editor's note: Chief Orslene wrote this e-mail as a personal introduction to his teammates before they join together to train in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the Department of Defense's inaugural Warrior Games, May 10-14. Excerpts from this e-mail and those from other participants are included in an Air Force News Service story about the games here.

I had always been an athlete. My whole life I competed in one thing or another ... not usually very well ... was never gifted in anything ... was that guy who never quit.

After Iraq ... and having to rebuild my right side (rebuilt shoulder, new hip) ... learning to live life hearing impaired ... I lost my way ... my beautiful bride could only do so much... 2½ years of physical therapy, shots, surgeries...more therapy...it gets tough...and to go from being a triathlete to a supporter of a triathlete didn't set well with me...so I tried to become a race walker ... but old ladies in walkers were keeping up.

Then one day I read the Wounded Warrior bulletin and it talked about needing athletes for the Warrior Games and I thought ... WOW ... wouldn't it be great to feel like that again ... you know, that toe on the line waiting for the gun feeling. I deleted the e-mail and went on about my life...and two days later found myself thinking, "Man, wouldn't it be great to feel that way again!"

I dug out that e-mail and called a young lady who changed our lives ... 1st Lt. Hannah McDaniels. She convinced this old bald chief that we needed swimmers ... and I could be one...but it was a process...and suddenly I found myself excited. Maybe, just maybe, I can be an athlete again.

I've never swam competitively. In fact, I'm built more for endurance. I wanted my mother's sense of humor, but instead I got her hips and thighs (Sorry Mom!) I'd just get through the swimming part of our triathlons to get to the bike/run.

I wasn't a fan of swimming. But after my injuries, they used the pool as part of my therapy. The first day they helped me swim sideways one length of the pool and hauled me out ... and I took a four-hour nap, I was so exhausted. That is how it went for weeks -- then it was a lap, then two, and now I swim, rather slowly, a mile three or four times a week.

I don't know a lick about racing, but I know about not quitting. I know about struggle and pain and determination and that little voice in the darkness that can only be God, that helps you through that moment ... to get you to the next moment and through each day.

Suddenly my name is on the list. I am watching YouTube video on how to swim faster, my much younger cousin is a collegiate swimmer and coaching me on Facebook, people I haven't heard from in 20 years are suddenly sending me e-mails because they read a news release that I was going to the Warrior Games ... and was going to be an athlete again ... BIG SMILE!

And yesterday I walked into a shop and asked about swim suits. The lady showed me board shorts and I said, "No, the kind athletes wear." I bought a pair of race jammers ... BIGGER SMILE! ... (Until I looked in the mirror...not pretty!)

So I read about your struggles and feel mine are minor, but just as real to my family and me ... and the despair that comes with each bad day ... and the exhilaration of the good ones.

Going to these games, I can't lose as long as I don't drown, because right this second, typing this, reaching out to you, I feel like an athlete again! Thank you!