When T.J. Pemberton received the call from the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment (WWR) to become a Marine archery team coach for the 2011 and 2012 Warrior Games trials, he thought, “This is a no brainer,” and then he hopped at the chance.
T.J. is a perfect fit for the job. He is a former Marine and current competitive archer with the Paralympic Military and Veteran Program. In 2002, T.J. was injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident in Oklahoma. He fell 442 feet, breaking nine bones, causing nerve damage to his right leg, a spinal fracture and traumatic brain injury. Miraculously, he woke up two days later and was released for six weeks of bed rest. His hunting buddies carried him to the woods to go bow-hunting soon after. T.J. shot a deer that day and knew he would still be able to do all the things he did before the accident.
“The word can’t is not in the Marine Corps dictionary,” he said.
In 2003, he began competing again, starting in a wheelchair. With the help of a brace, he was eventually able to compete in the standing category at Paralympic archery events. In 2005, he joined the U.S. Paralympics International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Archery World Championships Team and has been with the national team ever since. In 2008, he made his Paralympic Games debut.
Since 2006, he has been coaching at clinics and camps to help wounded warriors adapt their bows for their particular injury and learn that they can still excel at anything they put their minds to.
“Without sounding too mushy, I have to say that this has been the most rewarding experience I have ever had,” he said.
T.J. has seen wounded warriors go from thinking they would never be able to shoot because of their injuries to hitting the target within a few days. He once coached a Marine with muscle tremors so severe he was not even going to participate in the WWR Marine Corps trials. That Marine finished in the top 10 and was glad he tried out.
“I don’t know who benefits more, me or them?” he asked. “We can always do more for wounded warriors, like encouraging them to participate in adaptive sports as early as possible, before they go home. It gives them the motivation for the real world and opportunity to excel and be ahead of the curve.”
The Warrior Games will be held April 30 through May 5, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Sport rules are modified from Paralympic competition rules to suit the population of the Warrior Games. Each service is allowed a set number of representatives for each event. Army, Marine Corps and Army Special Operations Command are allowed four representatives each and the Navy/Coast Guard and Air Force are allowed three representatives each. There will be four archery events—utilizing a compound bow and recurve bow—including compound open, recurve open, team compound and team recurve.
The bows are modified to assist wounded warriors based on their wounds, illnesses or injuries. Bows can be adapted with a tab for competitors to shoot by using their mouths. Special gloves, wraps or shoulder mounts are used to help them hold the bow. String size can be adjusted if warrior athletes are shooting from a seated position.
To prepare the competitors for the Games, T.J. helps them with basic core and back exercises and nutrition guidance. But according to T.J., the most important preparations are the mental training and mental techniques necessary for consistent high performance.
“I am in awe of them because they are willing to try anything,” he said.