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Health and Fitness

Succeed Through Struggle

Navy Safe Harbor's Adaptive Athletics Program

Success is often defined by wins and losses. By life-changing professional achievements or things that give people acclaim in their community. However, the most important form of success is often overlooked - personal fulfillment.

When people face life-threatening injuries or illnesses, self-doubt, fear, depression and frustration can often overwhelm even the strongest personalities. These facts are no different when it comes to injured and ill Sailors. However, the Navy's wounded warrior program, Safe Harbor, helps Sailors overcome these challenges.
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"After I was injured, I created a safety bubble around myself," said retired Master-at-Arms 1st Class Adrian "A.J." Mohammed, a tandem cyclist training for the 2015 Warrior Games. "Everything needed to be a controlled environment that allowed me to feel comfortable. It was hard to be in public and trust others."

A.J. suffered a traumatic brain injury, orbital blowout to his right eye, causing him to be legally blind, multiple fractures to his jaw, a nerve laceration in his face, lost his sense of smell, part of his sense of taste and is completely deaf in his left ear after an incident while serving with a unit based in Bahrain in 2004. His continuing recovery process has involved a seemingly endless amount of surgeries, medications and physical therapy sessions.

A.J.'s vision means that he must ride a tandem bike, entrusting a pilot, sometimes a complete stranger, to be his eyes on the road at speeds that can reach more than 40 miles per hour. One miscue can not only ruin a ride, but may prove deadly.

"It was hard to ride in cars, be in crowds or any other situation that I couldn't control. On the tandem bike you have to just put your head down, let go, and pedal as hard as you can knowing that you and your pilot are on a path to success," A.J. said. "To be honest, last year I didn't think I'd be doing this. I would have thought you were joking if you'd said it."

He attributed self-perseverance and discipline as what pushed him through the doubt he once had.
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Former Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Redmond "Red" Ramos, a competitive adaptive swimmer, echoed A.J.'s testimony of self-perseverance.

"When I was initially hurt, I did not want to stop until I got back to who I was," Red said. "I learned that shouldn't be your goal. You should want to be better."

Red was injured when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in March of 2011. He initially kept all of his limbs but opted to have his left leg amputated below his knee to improve his overall quality of life. He picked up swimming because it was one of the first things that felt natural after his injury.

"The single, below-knee amputees like me know that we're the paper cut of all the guys that were injured out there," Red said. "I've never looked at myself as a victim, I see myself as lucky. I don't look at it as 'hey I got hurt and my life is hard now'. I think to myself 'look what I got away with'. It should've been a lot worse."

Red expresses no regrets about his situation, and even takes on a tone of humor about it, getting a tattoo that reads "I'm with stumpy" on his uninjured leg.

"I don't want to be who I was. I'm a stronger, better and nicer person," said Red. "Forget the person that you used to be and strive to be better."
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Red's attitude towards his recovery is similar to that of Hospitalman Katriana 'Kat' Durakovich, staying patient and positive.

Kat, an archer, suffered a severe stroke from complications with ulcerative colitis while stationed in Guam. The stroke left her paralyzed on the right side and unable to speak. To this point she's endured countless physical and speech therapy sessions to get to where she is today.

Because the use of her right hand is still limited, Kat shoots with her teeth. But she's used what some would consider a drawback and turned it in to an advantage. She learned that she shoots much better this way.

"At first it was terrifying, but I actually prefer it now," Kat said. "The improvement was almost immediate when I switched. Not to mention I don't have to worry about slicing my nose off. It's mind-blowing to other people. When I describe it to people, they can't even imagine it, but here I am doing it."

Archery is a long way from the hospital bed that Kat said she once felt tied down to.

"It felt like prison in my own brain. I was screaming in my head to get anything out. It was difficult at first, but it all came slowly," she said. "I'm proud of myself. I knew that if couldn't get a word today, I'd get it tomorrow. If I didn't stand up today, I'd stand up tomorrow. I never allowed myself to quit."

As all of these athletes continue to train to take home gold in this year's Warrior Games, they've all already succeeded in something much greater- recovery.
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