Archery Coach Helps Fellow Wounded Warriors Adapt to 'New Normal'
How adaptive sports promote healing for a coach and his athletes
While deployed to Iraq in 2005 as a wheeled-vehicle mechanic, Army Staff Sgt. Jessie White had no way of knowing the blast from an improvised-explosive device would change his life forever.
In an instant, he suffered not only a traumatic brain injury, but also two compressed disks in his neck that required surgery, and his right ankle was so heavily damaged it would need to be rebuilt four times. Everything he had known for the last 18 years came to a screeching halt.
"I spent 18 years in the Army [as a cavalry] scout," he said. "I was at the point where they told me I had to retire. I wasn't ready to retire.
"It's hard," White added. "It is truly hard. It was hard for me when the Army came in and said, 'Hey, sorry, you can't be in the Army anymore.' That's tough."
After 19 surgeries and more than three years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, White admitted he was unsure what to do next. He had been a Soldier since the age of 18, and when people started asking if he had thought about a new direction in life, he didn't have a definitive answer. But representatives from the Army approached him with an interesting proposal that helped him find a way forward.
"In 2010, the Army just came to me and said, "Hey, don't you bowhunt?'" White said. "I said, 'Yeah I've bowhunted my entire life. I grew up in Arkansas.' And they were like, 'Okay, well, you're on the Army's archery team.'"
White hadn't known the Army had an archery team, nor that competing would be possible with his injuries. It helped him heal physically and provided an outlet that took away the uncertainty he had about life outside the military. By reconnecting with what he described as a "warrior mindset," he was able to focus on being part of a team again, and as a result, he achieved success at the Department of Defense Warrior Games.
"I actually went and did the first Warrior Games in Colorado at the Olympic Training Center, and I used my hunting bow," he said.
I won the silver medal the first year, so I decided if I'm going to do this, I'm going to learn everything I can about it. I hired myself a coach, competed three more years, enjoyed it so much, and I learned so much that I was able to actually go take my coaching certifications." -Jessie White
After competing for four years, White achieved a level of mastery in his sport that allowed him to become the coach of not only the Army's archery team, but also the Navy's. This isn't an issue, he said, because the competition is more about camaraderie than rivalry.
In this role, he believes he has discovered his calling in life. In fact, White is overseeing all of the archery events at this year's games. He also coached the U.S. team for the international Invictus Games.
"I tell people I don't know where I would be - I really don't - if I wasn't coaching," he said. "These guys are like family, and then all of a sudden you lose that. So what the Warrior Games and all the adaptive sports [do, is give] that back to them."