A Caregiver’s Quiet Resilience

“I didn’t know how resilient I was until I had to be,” said Jennifer (Jen) Troha, wife and military caregiver to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Robert (Rob) Troha. “It’s amazing what you can do when you’re put in a situation where you just have to do what you have to do.”

As a wife, mother, and caregiver, Jen has her hands full. Never did she imagine she would be caring for a family of eight, including four children and two dogs, while traveling regularly to Paralympic-level adaptive sports training camps and clinics with an ill Service member.

And yet, she said, “Here I am. I didn’t realize I had it in me, that’s for sure.”

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U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Robert (Rob) Troha (left) pictured with his wife and caregiver Jennifer (Jen) Troha (right) at the 2017 DoD Warrior Games – U.S. Navy Trials in Port Hueneme, California, February 2017.

PO1 Troha was diagnosed with a neurological condition in December 2015 after 13 years of Service. The Department of Defense (DoD) Military Adaptive Sports Program helped him regain a sense of identity.

“Adaptive sports have given him purpose,” said Jen. “His career has been taken and he was raised with the old-fashioned belief that he’s the husband and the father and that he’s supposed to be the provider,” she said. “With all of that taken away, it’s nice for him to have something new to engage with and to focus on; something to keep him thriving.”

PO1 Troha competed in the February 2017 U.S. Navy Trials in Port Hueneme, California, to earn a spot at the upcoming DoD Warrior Games, and given PO1 Troha’s condition, he will always require a caregiver by his side. Jen has found companionship and support among fellow caregivers on the road.

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PO1 Troha focuses on his aim during air rifle trials at a Navy Warrior Games training camp in Port Hueneme, California, January 10, 2017.

“We are a very tight-knit group. We face a lot of the same challenges,” she said. “It’s not as simple as caring for our spouses; there are a whole lot of things that go into being a caregiver. The effect it has on your marriage and your family life play a big part. It’s nice to have other people that understand that struggle.”

Many caregivers also face challenges balancing their caregiver responsibilities while also prioritizing self-care – a necessary and conscious effort.

“It’s very easy to get lost in everything that’s going on. And if you’re not careful, the balance is lost with it,” said Jen. “It’s something we actively have to strive for but as long as we don’t forget to carve that time out, then that balance is there.”

She advises other caregivers to take help when it’s offered.

“It’s really important to address your own needs because if you’re not taken care of then you can’t take care of [your Service member]… if you’re not supported, then you can’t support [your Service member]. So, if people offer to help, take them up on it,” said Jen.

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PO1 Troha smiles with his wife and caregiver, Jen Troha, after competing in Track and Field events at the Navy Trials in Port Hueneme, California, February 2017.

As her children, aged six, four, two, and six months, grow up witness to their parents’ experience, Jen hopes they heed one major takeaway: if you fall down, you get back up.

“It’s not like when my husband joined the military, he anticipated that he was going to have any of the struggles he’s had,” she said, “and when you’re faced with a devastating diagnosis or severe psychological problems, you have two choices: you can let it hold you back, you can let it define you, or you can define yourself, get back up, and keep pushing through.”

And that’s what resilience is all about, isn’t it?

Learn more about the Military Adaptive Sports Program and follow the road to the Warrior Games on Twitter @WarriorCare and on Facebook @WarriorCare.