While the Military Adaptive Sports Program has opened the door for hundreds of recovering service members, their families, and their caregivers – for one athlete this program has led to a special opportunity.
Previous Warrior Games Navy athlete, Roel Espino, recently transitioned from athlete to coach. With his first Warrior Games in 2014 in Norfolk, Virginia, Espino competed in shooting and archery.
But at the Warrior Game Trials on Naval Base Coronado this May, Espino helped coach the Navy's Wounded Warrior Shooting Team. His journey from recovering service member to coach is one to recognize.
Espino's wounded warrior journey began in 2013, when he was involved in a motorcycle accident.
"I had a lot of abrasions, but more cognitive and neurological issues from the crash, such as TBI, PTSD, and short-term memory loss," added Espino.
When getting involved in adaptive sports, Espino added, "I had reservations coming in as an athlete, I was able body, so nobody was able to see the wounds from which I was suffering. After being in it, you receive knowledge that comes with participating, such as networking, benefits, and additional programs that are here to help you."
After participating in the Warrior Games in 2017, Espino retired from the Navy and finished competing as a wounded warrior. However, he continued to shoot on local shooting ranges in southern California.
When an opening became available at Navy Wounded Warrior for a team shooting coach, coaches Bob McMullin and David Kime recommended Espino. Espino shares, "I was hired as a coach, 2 years now, and it has been exciting! It is fun seeing the athletes progress and they are really blowing my mind."
"Coming back as a coach, I could apply military situations to things on the range" explained the Navy veteran. "Comparing military experiences to these competitions translates a lot better for the military athletes. Adaptive sports build your confidence and lets you know that just because you're hurt doesn't mean you're out of the fight."
Espino added, "Adaptive sports changes lives. It teaches you different ways of how to play a sport and life skills. I know a common theme among the athletes is that they are still angry at their situation and getting through and over that anger is a huge hurdle when trying to apply everyday life."
Espino continued, " I tell every athlete, "You could either be the life of your own pity party or you could do something about it. I've had athletes with terminal illnesses come back and bounce back stronger than the last time I saw them. It makes you really appreciate everything around you. If they can do it, then so can I."
Although the past two years the Warrior Games have been cancelled due to the pandemic, Espino shared, "I understand the need to cancel, especially when some of the athletes have immune issues. It was crushing for some of the athletes, but you must look at it into a positive aspect. We couldn't compete this year, but that gives us more time to prepare. And we are prepared!"
"Representing the Navy as a coach is exciting. I thought my last time would be in 2017 when I competed in Hawaii, but they called me back and I'm able to wear the same colors again," continued Espino. "Warrior Games matter because these men and women made a promise to the American people that they would put their lives on the line for our freedoms. Unfortunately, sometimes we get hurt. Warrior Games is only a fraction of what we could do for American soldiers and veterans. You can't put a price on happiness."
This year, the Warrior Games will take place at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida.
This story also appears on Military Health System written by Gabby Bonilla (edited by Mark Oswell)