Medically retired Petty Officer Third Class Nathan DeWalt, a former master at arms, will compete for Team Navy during the 2013 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 11-17.
Throughout the seven-day event, wounded, ill and injured servicemembers and veterans from the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard will compete for the gold in track and field, shooting, swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball.
DeWalt will take on his fourth Warrior Games by competing in wheelchair basketball, cycling, track and field and possibly swimming. He said as a seasoned Warrior Games veteran, his goal this year is not so much receiving therapy as being a motivator.
"Of course we want to win, but as the new members look to me now as an example, I want to show them that it's not about who takes a gold medal; it's about recovery, therapy and making that lifelong bond with each other. Whether we win or lose, we're family," said DeWalt.
He said he is proud to represent Team Navy for the fourth year.
"The ability to represent not only my service but my family and friends is an indescribable feeling. I'm honored to compete for them," said DeWalt. "I'm very thankful to be a part of this team and any activity that I'm able to do because just being alive is a blessing for me."
DeWalt joined the Navy right out of high school because of his family and its long military history. He said he never let his injury get him down.
He was injured in a motorcycle accident in 2008, when a taxi cab driver ran a stop sign and hit him. As he gained consciousness at the site of the accident, he said he did not need doctors to tell him what was wrong. He knew he was paralyzed.
Despite his situation, he never let it get him down. He was put into a medically induced coma, and as soon as he woke up, he began his rehabilitation.
"I knew I was going to do whatever it took in order to get out of that bed, whether it was walking again or in a wheelchair," said DeWalt. "I just wanted to move on to the next chapter of my life."
He spent three months in intensive therapy and feels blessed at his progress personally and professionally. He earned a spot and competed in the 2012 U.S. Para Triathlon Team at the Auckland, New Zealand, world championships.
"My life's amazing now. I'm very thankful to be a part of this team and any activity that I'm able to do because just being alive is a blessing for me," said DeWalt.
Four years after his injury, DeWalt's inspiration comes from his fiance, Erica Cepko.
"She has been a huge part of my recovery; she's changed my life. I've found happiness; I've found love," he said. "She stands by the finish lines and drives me to push that much harder in my competitions, just knowing she's there, cheering me on, it's exhilarating."
Cepko feels the same.
"He inspires me; he's just so happy and likes to help other people. He's always so positive," she said. "I'm so honored to be a part of all of this and to share his joy."
DeWalt encourages anyone who is a wounded warrior to come out to compete.
"Everybody's injury varies, whether it's mental, physical or emotional. Whatever it is, you have to take the initiative to better yourself, to recover and be a part of something else," said DeWalt. "Whether you make the team or not, either way, you're going to have that experience. You're going to know what level of intensity you need to bring to that next year's games in order to make the team. Even if you don't want to compete, come out, see what it's all about, make some new friends."
For DeWalt, the Warrior Games not only inspired him to compete but to grow in adaptive sports. He said his injury has not held him back in any way.
"During the competition, the other athletes and I are not inhibited by our conditions; we accomplish feats that many able-bodied people couldn't tackle. And we are surrounded by teammates, our brothers and sisters, who encourage us to be our very best," said DeWalt.
He said the Warrior Games are important.
"The Warrior Games remind us that there's life after illness and injury," said DeWalt. "An incredibly rewarding future awaits us, as long as we are prepared to give it our all."
Editor's Note: Check Navy.mil and All Hands Magazine for continuing coverage of the 2013 Warrior Games May 11-17.