A video screen grab shows action from the Wheelchair Rugby finals at the 2024 Warrior Games.

A video screen grab shows action from the Wheelchair Rugby finals at the 2024 Warrior Games. (Facebook/DOD Warrior Games)

(Tribune News Service) — Tom Barsby spent 11 years in the military before he was medically retired with a spinal injury and two traumatic brain injuries.

It’s taken surgeries to be able to bend over and tie his shoes, and it’s taken brain function supplements to bring his memory and cognition up to par just to live his everyday life.

On Thursday, the 2001 Lodi High graduate added another, less life-changing injury to his list: a pulled leg muscle during track and field portion of the Department of Defense Warrior Games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Florida. He finished last in the race.

“It doesn’t matter, nobody cares, you’re just here for each other. It’s an event and a place for growth,” Barsby said. “Disney, Department of Defense, all the sponsors really get that, bringing in friends and family, they gave us the park for a whole night to ourselves. You push each other, and you root for each other. If you come away with a medal or a new injury, it doesn’t matter.”

The Warrior Games bring together athletes to compete, with teams from each branch of the U.S. Military (Australia brought a team to compete this year as well). The athletes are active duty and retired veterans who have been wounded, ill or injured while on duty. Barsby competed for the Special Operations Command team, which is the command covering special units from several branches, such as the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs.

“It’s about celebrating these guys that have had injuries, who are still here trying to make a comeback. Everybody loves a comeback story, and there’s about 200 members here that are living that story,” Barsby said. “I’m no hero myself, but I’ve rubbed shoulders with a lot of them this week.”

Barsby played football for Lodi High, but also took every opportunity for outdoor sports in the area.

Medically retired Army veteran Tom Barsby

Medically retired Army veteran Tom Barsby (DOD Warrior Games)

“I spent a lot of my time in Lodi wakeboarding on the Mokelumne River, or snowboarding in Tahoe,” he said. “Even after finishing high school, I went straight to Kirkwood (near South Lake Tahoe) to be a snowboard instructor.”

He joined the U.S. Army and began his career with an airborne infantry unit as a medic. After a few years, he applied for the Special Operations Command, and after going through the selection process he spent another year in schooling. He spent his special operations career in psychological operations, which he described as essentially marketing and advertising, working in Iraq to eradicate ISIS in the country.

“You’re working with a diplomatic person or maybe a police chief, and you have to have the ability to talk to them and build some rapport with them, find out what kind of solutions the United States can use to help,” Barsby said. “It’s a lot of face-to-face, but also a lot of research on the political, military, or social lens. Truely you have to come up with an idea yourself. There’s no right way to do this, you have to come up with an idea to work with that partner.”

His deployments took him through every major city in Iraq as he worked with local people and organization on messaging against the terrorist group.

“I never actually sustained injuries while deployed, unlike a lot of my teammates here at the games,” Barsby said.

Along the way, Barsby found time to marry his high school sweetheart, Angelique, whom he met in eighth grade at Woodbridge Middle School. Today they have three children.

After his deployments, Barsby was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. as a jump trainer and a coordinator of airborne operations. He estimates he completed 60 airborne jumps in his career.

“I had a few jumps that went a little south when you land, you know, a wind gust makes you land harder, and I had a jump that did a significant damage to my spine,” he said. “I wasn’t able to sit anymore, but I could still stand and run, and put on the rucksack. But over time the spine got worse and worse and worse. When I had a TBI, my eyes wouldn’t work anymore, then after another TBI I had memory issues, and other cognitive issues. Even understanding English.”

At that point in 2022, the recommendation was medical retirement, leaving active service as a Sargent First Class E7. The recovery has been steady — he had nerve ablation surgery to help with the pain in his back.

“It gave me some of the range of motion back. I’m able to sit at the dinner table with my kids again,” he said. “The cognitive issues have gotten better with natural brain function supplements. I take those and get a lot of sleep, and can basically be normal again. I’ll never be perfect again, but it’s a lot better than it used to be.”

Today he works and lives in the Tampa, Fla. Area, as an advisor for a company that provides military services to the U.S. Central Command. When he heard about the opportunity to try out for the Warrior Games, he jumped on board.

“I thought, well, I used to run fast, I can probably get myself into shape,” he recalled. “The program is fantastic, even if you never did the sport, they will train you. It’s a two-week program to teach you. There was a lot of different sports I tried out that I never did before.”

At the tryout at the end of the two-week program, Barsby qualified for the SOCOM team in precision air sports as a pistol shooter, the track team in the 100- and 200-meter runs, and the swim team. He started with the precision air sports, finishing 11th out of 20 competitors in the pistol competition.

Then came the track portion on Thursday, which saw Barsby’s competition cut short due to his injury. By his side after the race was his family.

“We’re just perfect for each other. It’s nice to bond with somebody who’s from your hometown who has the same values, and she’s been my biggest cheerleader,” He said about Angelique. “She said, ‘I don’t care that you got hurt on the track and finished dead last, I’m so proud of you. Everyone was cheering for you, I was so proud’.”

Then it was Tom’s turn to be the cheerleader with Angelique when the children of the competitors were given an opportunity to race. Their oldest, 10-year-old Roman, placed second.

The Warrior Games continue through Sunday, and can be streamed at

(c)2024 the Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.)

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