Share Your Story: Adaptive Sports through the Eyes of a Military Caregiver

Navy wounded warrior and caregiver

In 2009, Colleen and Joe Derbak’s lives took an unexpected turn. September of that year, while on deployment in Afghanistan, then Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joe Derbak and his accompanying U.S. Marine Corps military police unit were struck by a grenade. The entire Marine unit survived, and Joe earned an award for valor. What he didn’t know at the time, Joe sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) – which intensified the very next day, when he Joe was struck again. It took a month into his post deployment for him to start to realize the extent of his injuries. He had lost feeling in both his legs and developed a severe stutter as the result of the blasts. These and other changes to life as they knew it sent Joe and his wife, and now caregiver, Colleen, on a transformative journey.

“At first, it would take Joe two minutes to say one sentence,” Colleen said. “Because of the post-traumatic stress and TBI, he didn’t know how to deal with his emotions. It was hard on me – it was hard on our family.” To help combat the emotional and mental toll that his injuries had on him and his family, Joe decided to participate in the Military Adaptive Sports Program (MASP) in 2012.

MASP provides reconditioning activities and competitive athletic opportunities to all wounded, ill and injured service members to improve their physical and mental quality of life throughout the continuum of recovery and transition.

“Participating in Military Adaptive Sports has given my husband a place to get his frustration out. After his first practice for the 2012 Warrior Games, he came back a different person.” The Derbaks journey through adaptive sports impacted the whole family, including their two children. “My husband practices archery at home now, and he teaches our children too. Now they have something special with him – that’s just him – and he didn’t have those bonds for so long” Colleen said. “It’s amazing to see the turnaround adaptive sports has on our lives.”

Today, life for Joe and Colleen is much different. After a 30-day treatment at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Joe’s stutter is completely gone and he is competing in the 2016 Navy Warrior Trials for a chance to earn a spot on the Navy’s team for the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

For more information on TBI diagnosis and treatment, visit: www.dcoe.mil and for information on Military Adaptive Sports go to www.warriorcare.mil or follow WCP on Twitter at www.twitter.com/warriorcare