Wounded but not forgotten: Indiana serviceman represents state in 2017 DoD Wounded Warrior Games
By CARA BALL | Kokomo Tribune, Ind. (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 17, 2017
RUSSIAVILLE — On practice days, Tech Sgt. Chris Rust looks forward to riding his handcycle.
For 10 miles it’s just him, his thoughts and his handcycle.
“The first time I road the handcycle, I fell in love with it,” Rust said.
His love for the bike, which is operated by the arms rather than the legs, was formed through his love for running, a physical activity Rust is no longer capable of doing since suffering a stroke just two days after returning from deployment in November 2013.
Rust was in the Intensive Care Unit for seven days.
“You go from being a very positive… type of individual, to waking up and realizing, that’s not going to happen anymore,” he said.
It wasn’t until Rust, an aircraft maintainer at the Grissom Air Reserve Base, learned of the Air Force Wounded Warrior program that he felt he was given a second chance.
Through the recovery program, service men and women who have suffered illnesses, accidents and war related wounds, are given a second chance at finding their strength.
After 28 years of service in the United States Air Force, Rust was faced with new personal challenges, onset by the stroke.
“I ended up having double vision and then, of course, my balance was off and I actually had to learn to walk again,” he said of his nearly 13-month recovery process.
“I have difficulty with my memory process sometime, and that’s kind of hard,” adding that he's gotten lost driving home from work on occasion, while on a route he's taken for several years.
And although it’s been nearly three years since his stroke, Rust still battles with secondary ailments as a result of the stroke. He’s developed bilateral pulmonary embolisms in his lungs and was diagnosed with blood clots in his legs.
But the most frustrating effect of the stroke was not being there for his family in the same capacity he once was. Doing things like chasing his grandchildren across the front lawn or going for a morning run became a challenge with his health condition.
Rust was frustrated and angry at times, until his appointed recovery coordinator introduced him to the Air Force Wounded Warrior program.
Being able to find a “new normal,” Rust said, has positively impacted his continued recovery.
“We know the same language,” Rust said of his wounded warrior comrades, all whom have faced similar challenges in health and have been able to find a new purpose in their service.
These warriors receive mental health counseling and are presented with an opportunity to train and compete in Olympic-style games each year, proving that they are not handicapped by their illnesses.
“Once all this happened, you realize that some things are gone, and that there is some adjustments to be made,” Rust said. “So, going through the Air Force Wounded Warrior adaptive sports camps, I found out that there’s other things that I can do.”
Those other things include: the handcycle, archery and soft air pistol. These are the three areas Rust competed in during the 2017 Wounded Warrior Games in July, and it was certainly a journey getting to that point.
The first year Rust went through the wounded warrior adaptive sports training, he tried out to compete in the 2016 Department of Defense Wounded Warrior Games, a national competition pitting the four branches of the military against one another in physical games.
For the 2016 competitions, Rust didn’t make the team. However, 2017 seemed to be his year.
After taking a year to practice for hours each day, in February 2017, Rust made the team as a representative of the United States Air Force. In a team of 40 wounded soldiers, Rust was the only member representing Indiana in the national games, which took place in Chicago, Illinois.
“I’m enjoying where I’m at,” Rust said. “I appreciate where I’m at and it’s just a blessing to be with these warriors and be able to recognize that I can still get out there and kick it… and have some fun.”
“It’s giving him a purpose to get out of bed,” said his wife, Mindy Rust. “Obviously with our kids and grandkids, they keep us busy and active, but for him to actually have something like he had before like the running, it’s been something that’s been life saving for him.”
Competing in the DoD Wounded Warrior Games is a precursor to the Invictus games, an international paralymic-style multi-sport event and the World Paralympics.
But for Rust, he’s content with his participation in the Wounded Warrior Games, in which he won a silver medal for handcycling, came 5th in pistol and 18th in archery.
He’s found purpose in these sports following an uncertain physical future. For Rust, the Wounded Warrior program has offered him much more than he could ever have expected.
“I now know I am not forgotten,” Rust said. “There is a place for me.”
©2017 the Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Ind.)
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