“Being here at the Warrior Games is a prestigious honor for me – I get to represent the United States Army,” said Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Eric Pardo, an archer, cyclist, swimmer, and sitting volleyball athlete at the 2016 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games.
Like many wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans who competed in the games, which took place at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York from June 15 – 21, 2016, Pardo explained his journey from Army medic to adaptive sports athlete as one of evolving perspective.
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U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Eric Pardo (left), an athlete in the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games, stands with his brother (center) and father (right). Pardo's family traveled from Puerto Rico to support him at the games this year.
“Adaptive sports saved my life,” said Pardo, who now lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and 11-year-old daughter. “When I was told I could never run again, that I could never upright cycle again, it was hard for me because that’s what I did for physical fitness.”
But when he went through the DoD’s Disability Evaluation System, his Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer introduced him to adaptive sports which offered another avenue for changing his attitude and refocusing on his long-term recovery needs.
Pardo, who sustained several physical injuries while on active duty, including deviated spinal discs, a fractured ankle, a meniscus tear, as well as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, transitioned to veteran status with support from the Army’s Warrior Transition Command in March 2016.
New Experiences for All
It’s his second time participating in the Warrior Games, but this year, his cheering section includes two new faces. Pardo’s wife had travel restrictions because of her pregnancy so he was able to invite his father and youngest brother, Raynel, to West Point for the games, rekindling a relationship with family nearly 20 years in-the-making and providing Raynel with his first opportunity to travel outside of his home in Puerto Rico.
“These are so many firsts for him, and it’s incredible. He looks at me like I’m a superstar or a superhero – and that’s priceless,” Pardo said.
Pardo’s current and future aspirations encompass more than just his personal goals. He also hopes that this trip has enabled Raynel to absorb some of the characteristics embodied by the Warrior Games mission, as well as the athletes, coaches, families, and caregivers in attendance.
“This experience will be something he’s going to carry with him for the rest of his life. And I hope he picks up on some of the character traits that I want him to pick up on. I hope he sees someone in need and helps them. That would mean more to me than any dollar amount,” he said. “I physically can’t do some of the things I want to, but Raynel can, so I’ll support him as much as I can for as long as I can, as a brother should do.”
Veterans Helping Veterans
Pardo is also very passionate about suicide prevention in the military community and speaks fervently on how society can best utilize DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs resources to support wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans during both tough times, and always.
“As a society, we need not forget who they are and where we are as veterans. We’re everywhere: we’re your neighbor, we’re your bus driver, we’re your teacher,” he said.
Pardo’s own experiences reveal that veterans’ reaching out to other veterans is a key component of these care networks.
Advice for Others
Pardo has been able to employ his clinical skills from his role in the Army into his new position as a phlebotomist at a local health center in San Antonio but in his spare time, he’s working on his own physical and mental health – and encouraging others to do the same.
“Don’t stay home, get out,” he urged his wounded, ill, and injured counterparts. “Don’t succumb to mental or emotional darkness, you’re stronger than that. We’re all stronger than that.”
Evidently, his perspective on the future has evolved with the support of his family and fellow veterans.
“We’re looking for a way to get back to a whole. Not back to where we were but a new normal,” he said.
For more information on proactively supporting wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans, follow the DoD Office of Warrior Care Policy on Facebook and Twitter @WarriorCare.