Most people would have a difficult time maintaining a positive attitude after a serious accident resulting in a traumatic brain injury, speech, balance and memory issues, but not Jeannette Tarqueno. Just four months after being hit in the head by a 30 pound steel bracket while deployed with the Navy in December 2011, she was competing in the 2012 Warrior Games.
“It was great,” Tarqueno said. “It changed my life. It brought some positivity into my life, because I realized there were people who knew what I was going through. When I came back from the Warrior Games I felt so good and so motivated. A lot of people told me the life was back in my face.”
Headed to the Warrior Games for the second time this year, Tarqueno has expanded her horizons, and will be competing as the Navy’s first Ultimate Champion contender. Going from just two events last year—swimming and cycling—to the five events required by the Ultimate Champion competition has been a bit overwhelming, but Tarqueno said, “everyone is supporting me. I know they have my back.”
To prepare for this year’s competition Tarqueno has been attending training camps about once a month. She has also enjoyed bonding with her teammates. Things that were frustrating before, like forgetting words or losing her balance, are easier for Tarqueno to brush off when she is around people with similar struggles.
“I would tip over a lot because of my injury, and I learned to laugh at it,” she said. “I learned to embrace it.”
Tarqueno has also embraced adaptive sports. Faced with the reality that her hopes for a 20-year career in the military are at an end, Tarqueno plans now to go back to school and obtain a degree in kinesiology. From there, she hopes to work in adaptive sports.
“I love adaptive sports because it’s never about ‘What can’t this person do,’” she said. “It’s always about, ‘What can this person do.’”
That is also the attitude Tarqueno recommends other Service members take towards their recovery. There are people and programs available to help, she said, and there is no reason not to take full advantage of them.
“If you have these kinds of experiences, get involved,” she said. “Ask the questions. And don’t let anyone ever tell you ‘no.’ Even if you have to fight, and fight, and fight, don’t ever give up.”