The 2022 Department of Defense Warrior Games brought wounded warriors together to compete in paralympic sports in Orlando, Florida. U.S. Space Force Capt. Nichole “Nikki” Evenson competed on the Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) team in standing and prone precision shooting, recurve archery, and cycling. Joining Nikki was her husband, Aaron, a U.S. Air Force veteran and caregiver, and their two children, Avery and Nate, cheering her on and participating in the activities available to them.
Evenson explained, "Throughout my career I've had a lot of different illnesses, but I kept putting it off, including my PTSD and TBI. I'm a perfectionist and I didn't want to be 'that co-worker off at the doctors, the slacker.' Eventually, my body started really struggling, I had high anxiety, and my stomach hurt so bad."
After having a total colectomy, Evenson faced post-surgery complications stating, "Since the procedure, I've had a lot of neuro issues. It was a full plate; the surgery is what got me the downtime to focus and think about the other stuff that's happened, too."
Her husband reached out and talked to Evenson's leadership, and they connected with AFW2. AFW2 has programs available for the recovering U.S. Air Force community, ranging from adaptive sports to support for military caregivers.
Evenson shared, "At my first AFW2 event, I signed up for adaptive sports and it brought me so much joy. Competing again and trying each event got me so excited it brought life back to me. I love it!"
"The AFW2 caregiver program is phenomenal," her husband added. "Other folks have different struggles, but similar journeys. It's interesting being at the Warrior Games meeting caregivers from different services and countries and seeing how they do it."
He continued: "While at the games, my kids will go and play with the other military caregiver kids, and I'll sit and talk with caregivers and pass information on. Has that shaped how I try to help her? I think so. If anything, there are other tools and resources I didn't know about and try to apply that with our journey."
In preparation for the Warrior Games, the Evenson family trained together. "The kids started working out with me in the gym. It's awesome watching them push and challenge their bodies, even compete amongst friends and each other," Evenson shared. "Military adaptive sports has the team aspect and the camaraderie we all love about the military. Once you're out, I think everyone seeks that. With AFW2 it's just Air Force, but when you're here at the Warrior Games it's all services, and we're all together in this. It's incredible to test yourself against your limits."
"The Warrior Games featured a variety of paralympic sports, but also had activities for families. "They were so pumped watching wheelchair rugby, my son had the whole crowd cheering and amping everyone up. It's exciting to see them encourage everyone else, get involved, and have fun," she said.
To learn more about Warrior Care's Military Adaptive Sports Program, visit the MASP webpage. To learn more about U.S. Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, visit their homepage