Friday, August 8, 2008

Wounded Warrior to Aim for Gold in Beijing Paralympics

Photo: Former Army Spc. Scott Winkler, a 3rd Infantry Division soldier severely wounded in Iraq, has his sights set on winning gold medals in discus, shot put and javelin during the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. Defense Dept. photo by Donna Miles

With the world's attention focused on the Olympic Games that open tomorrow in Beijing, a former 3rd Infantry Division soldier severely wounded in Iraq is gearing up to compete in the Paralympic Games that open there Sept. 6.

Former Army Spc. Scott Winkler has his sights set on winning gold medals in discus, shot put and javelin. But he said he's just as committed to bringing home new hope to others with disabilities -- a cause he works tirelessly to promote through the organization he cofounded, Champions Made From Adversity.

Winkler was deployed to Tikrit, Iraq, in May 2003, when he fell off the ammunition truck he was unloading. The freak accident landed him in a wheelchair with both legs paralyzed.

After six months of deep depression, the former high school sprinter said he made a conscious decision to get on with his life and become independent. "Everybody has ups and downs in life," he said. "Just because I'm disabled doesn't mean that it's all over. It just means that I have to find a different way to live it."

That mindset led Winkler to pick up competitive throwing and landing him in the winner's circle. He set a world record in shot put last year at the Parapan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. He also holds the 2007 world record in the T54 shot put at the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships in Atlanta, Ga.

This year, Winkler earned a coveted spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team. He'll travel to Colorado later this month to pick up his team uniforms, then train for two weeks in Okinawa, Japan, before arriving in Beijing on Sept. 2.

President Bush noted Winkler's achievement while hosting the U.S. Olympic team at the White House July 21. "Scott didn't spend his whole life training to become an elite athlete, but athletic competition helped give Scott his life back," Bush said.

He cited Winkler's often-quoted sentiment about making the Paralympic Team: "I fought for this country, and now I'd love to win for this country."

In a final competition before the Paralympic Games, Winkler competed in late July at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Omaha, Neb. He wrapped up the week with gold medals in discus, shot put and javelin, as well as a silver medal in basketball.

Winkler said he hopes to repeat that performance in Beijing, making good on the deathbed promise he made to his uncle, a Vietnam veteran who recently died of complications from Agent Orange exposure.

But Winkler emphasized that the medals he wins and world records he sets aren't for himself or for any other particular person. "They're for everybody in the United States," he said. "If I can inspire just one person, that's what I care about."

He's so committed to the power of sports and recreation in helping people with disabilities move forward with their lives that he and his friends and fellow veterans founded Champions Made From Adversity.

The group focuses on the healing power of sports and leisure activities, not just for disabled people, but for their families as well. Its motto, Winkler said, testifies what it stands for: "If you can believe, you can achieve."

As he strives to reach new limits and to encourage others to do the same, Winkler said he finds inspiration being around other disabled veterans. "These people have tremendous spirit and an overpowering attitude that helps them rise above adversity," he said. "It's like our own family inside of this great nation. It is a contagious and inspiring mindset, and the camaraderie is unbelievable."

Related Sites:
Special Report: National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Champions Made From Adversity

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

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