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Around The Fleet

Wounded Warrior Team Navy Trials- Parks

Airman Brett Parks

Lying on the ground, he made a deal with himself. He wasn't going to fall asleep until he got to the hospital. When he finally arrived and allowed himself to close his eyes, he slipped into a coma.

"When I woke up I didn't have my leg," said Airman Brett Parks. "I was very confused to say the least.

"Seeing my family after that was really strange. I didn't realize until a month later that I was out for 20 days. They told me, but when you're coming out, they're bringing you off of drugs and everything; you don't remember stuff. My wife, when I woke up, she was just kissing me and kissing me; and I had two collapsed lungs and I couldn't really breathe. As much as I wanted to kiss her, I wanted to push her away because I needed to breathe and I didn't understand why she was so happy. I was like, 'I just saw you yesterday, what's the matter?'

"I didn't get to see my son until a few weeks later," said Parks. "He wanted to get up on me, but my leg was freshly amputated, and I had other complications; they had to open up my stomach to take my kidney out and take a third of my colon out, so I couldn't really hold him. It was really bad. It was to the point that I didn't even want him there because it hurt to see him and not be able to hold him."

Parks, a Miami native and 1997 graduate of Miami Palmetto Senior High School, competed in the Wounded Warrior Team Navy Trials over the last week in the Hampton Roads-Virginia area, vying for a spot on Team Navy in the Warrior Games later this year in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He spent more than five years in the Navy, first working to become a rescue swimmer, and after an injury to his foot sidelined that path, learning to become an aviation warfare systems operator or AW.

It was at the time when he was a student training to become an AW that he was injured.

"I was, and still am, a certified personal trainer," said Parks. "So after I did everything that I do in the Navy, after work I guess, I would train clients on the side here and there.

"I was meeting a client for the first time in front of her fitness center to do an assessment of her. I heard a scream behind the fitness center. It was something I never really heard before. There was a lady walking her dogs and she said, 'Oh my gosh he's being robbed, somebody help.' So I dropped all my stuff ... ran in and intervened and the robber had a gun, and he shot me ... right in the abdomen."

Parks' attitude toward fitness is one of the things that saved his life.

"The doctors who worked on me during my incident and after it said if I wasn't in as good shape as I was, if I wasn't as physically fit, I would have died. I had over a dozen surgeries in a week. They said most of the time people's bodies can't take it. They said that I did my part by being in shape."

As Parks healed and got used to living without his leg he had the support of his family and the Navy, and he began to take part in the Navy Safe Harbor/Wounded Warrior program. So far this has included a trip to Hawaii for the Wounded Warrior Pacific Invitational where he earned three gold medals for swimming.

"I never swam in competition before the incident. After the incident I wanted nothing to do with athletics. I was hurt. I was always in pain. I just wanted to be with my family, but my social worker, she kept pushing me to get involved with the Wounded Warrior/Navy Safe Harbor."

He eventually did.

"Just before that I wanted to get back in the water and see what it was like to swim with one leg ... and I didn't like it. I swam one lap and came back to my wife and said, 'I'm never swimming again. I don't like this. I don't want to do it.'

"Then I went to Hawaii for the Wounded Warrior Pacific Invitational, and it was like a light bulb turned on; the switch was flipped. I was gliding in the water, and I had a lot of power. It was almost like I was reunited; ... like I was back home ... I was at my most comfortable in the water."

Everyone competing in the trials has a full day, leaving their hotel rooms at 6:30 in the morning and not returning until 10 at night, but at the end of the day the mentality is the same for everyone.

"It's time to train. It's time to make the team," said Parks.

There are some other benefits to participating in the trials besides being fit and competing.

"We have people from every walk of life, every kind of injury, from amputated arms to PTSD to TBIs-traumatic brain injuries," said Parks. "As much as we're supported by people - even our own families - they just don't understand, fully, what we are going through.

"Here at Navy Safe Harbor ... we have something in common," said Parks. "That makes us closer; that gives us a bond. If I'm looking at my friend over here, he has an amputated leg, all I have to do is give him a look, and he knows exactly what I am feeling and exactly what I am going through because he is going through it too.

"We have that bond," said Parks. "It means the world to me. We all have that competitive spirit about us. We all are looking for more than what life has given us as far as our body and our physical condition. This allows us to look at our physical condition and look at others and say, 'This doesn't stop him and it's not going to stop me.'"

Every event the wounded warriors have participated in has been cheered on by countless volunteers from commands throughout the Hampton Roads area, and the event has been nothing but positive for the athletes.

"The participation from all the commands here in Virginia is overwhelming," said Parks. "To see everyone come together and be there and cheer us on and encourage us, it means so much to us. Not only does it help us work harder, it helps us feel different in a positive way instead of a negative one. When we walk through an airport or through a mall, people might look at us, but not in a positive way. They'll look at us like, 'Poor thing.'

"The commands that come, they look at us like, 'Wow. This is so inspirational. This is so great. You guys are awesome,'" said Parks. "It really helps our self-esteem. Even the most confident guy here, it's in the back of our heads that we're different and we like being different in a positive way."

During the trials Parks competed in the swimming, track and field, and sitting volleyball events.

Parks is one of four Wounded Warriors PCU Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) sponsored throughout the weeklong trials. The Navy Trials are a precursor to the Warrior Games, an annual athletic competition hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee that brings together more than 200 wounded warriors from all branches of military service. Forty Sailors will compete on Team Navy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, later this year.