Iraq veteran challenging herself to move forward
The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.
A roadside explosion in Iraq didn't just fail to kill one Yuma soldier. That horrifying blast gave Margaux Mange a new commitment to life.
She refuses to allow near-constant physical pain stop her from achieving new heights, whether she's winning medals at Warrior Games sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee or trekking to the South Pole in the dead of winter with British royalty.
"If I didn't have the pain, then I wouldn't want to keep going. The physical pain is something I'm never going to get rid of, so I accept it and move on," Mange explains. "The pain reminds me that I'm still alive, and it reminds me that I am doing all this for my depression and for the people that I lost."
Mange, 28, is definitely calling upon that inner reservoir of courage and strength in recent months as she prepares for what will likely prove to be the most demanding and thrilling experience of her life. She's getting ready to join fellow Wounded Warriors for a 208-mile trek across the frozen Arctic in the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge.
The Warriors will face temperatures as low as -35 C as they lug gear weighing up to 150 pounds during the four-week journey slated for November.
"Our expeditions are held to raise awareness, to show the public who our wounded are, to tell their stories, to highlight the support they need," said Edward Parker, co-founder of Walking With the Wounded. "They are also to champion these extraordinary people who do not give up despite injury, who continue to face challenges with determination and courage."
The U.S. team will be joined by Wounded Warriors from the Commonwealth and United Kingdom, with the latter team counting among its members Britain's Prince Harry, a royal fellow who already happens to be friends with Mange.
"He is going to be as much a part of the team as the rest of us, pulling the sled, cross-country skiing and sleeping in the tent," she said. "He's really honestly very down to earth."
The warrior and the prince first met when he presented with her with a silver medal in cycling during one of the Warrior Games. Mange not only received a medal, she also got a quick kiss from the prince.
"I always say that was an honor for him," she said, smiling. "I say he got to kiss me on the cheek."
In addition to the prince, the teams will also be joined by actors Alexander Skarsgard from the TV show "True Blood" and Dominic West from "The Wire."
Before departing for the expedition in November, her team will have trained in Colorado and Iceland.
Her participation in the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge is being sponsored by the USO.
"The USO is proud to support Margaux Mange through this amazing life-challenge," said USO Warrior and Family Care Vice President Ed Shock. "USO centers were there for Margaux when she was actively serving and deployed, and we are here for her now as she continues to recover from wounds she sustained while deployed to Iraq. Like so many of her fellow soldiers, Margaux has an indomitable spirit and is an inspiration to us all."
An IED or improvised explosive device injured Mange during her second tour to Iraq, where the U.S. Army sergeant (retired) was serving as a military police officer. She was standing in the gunner's position in a Humvee with the explosion occurred.
Unaware of the severity of her injuries, Mange continued to serve in active duty until March 2005, when she witnessed her best friend and two others die in another IED attack.
Today she suffers from a traumatic brain injury, Bell's Palsy and post traumatic stress disorder. She also experiences nerve blocks and intense headaches. She has undergone speech therapy to aid with her memory and hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat her pain and depression.
She was medically discharged from the military following an unsuccessful brain surgery.
Mange lives with constant headaches, which she describes as 6 out of 10 on the pain scale.
In her physical and emotional recovery, she has discovered the healing power of sports and spending time outdoors.
Mange explains that she pretty much "stopped living" for about three years, a period she describes as "miserable" simply because defeat just wasn't in her nature.
"It's not in my makeup to give up and quit. All of us Wounded Warriors want to keep living," she said. "I want to jump out of airplanes and bungee jump. I'm a challenge junkie. I always have been."
In addition to the Warrior Games, she has also competed in several Ride2Recovery bike rides.
But Mange isn't just plagued with physical pain. She is also haunted by something equally as painful - questions.
"Why was I chosen to live and my best friend died? Every step I take in this direction is 'Why am I living?' I know I am nowhere near the answer, but I am getting closer."
Mange moved to Yuma in April. Her fiance, a U.S. Marine, is stationed here.
She says her biggest fear about the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge isn't the physical performance the journey will demand. She is more concerned about the emotional obstacles.
"I just came off all my depression medication. It's amazing for me to say that! But it's always been scary to think that the challenge is 90 percent mental, so I don't know what fears are to come mentally," she said. "So I am going to have to rely on my teammates. I know they are going to have my back 100 percent. But I won't know how it's going to be until about five days into it."
In addition to proving her abilities to herself, Mange says she also hopes to convey a powerful message to anyone faced with difficulties in life. "Just keep living your life. The next day will always bring something new that you didn't know is there. You definitely have to figure our your life and keep living. Once you do, it's worth it."
For her, one of the biggest stresses of taking part in the upcoming Challenge is finding something to top it.
"I am very excited for the future and I hope that more opportunities come from this. I want to take them by the horn. I want to be a 'yes' person," she said with enthusiasm. "But it's kind of crazy. When you go to the South Pole, you have to do something even bigger after that. I don't know yet what that's going to be."
Darin Fenge / firstname.lastname@example.org