By Erin Tindell
Air Force Personnel
1/25/2012 – JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AFNS) — When Master Sgt. Christopher Aguilera arrived to breakfast the first day of the Air Force’s Joint Adaptive Fitness and Sports Camp held here, his heart dropped.
In the same room were Capt. Tony Simone and his wife Andrea, two people he hadn’t seen since last year’s one-year anniversary ceremony of a HH-60 Pave Hawk crash in Afghanistan. Simone was the pilot and Aguilera was the gunner and they were attempting to rescue wounded NATO allies. Both were left with wounds and injuries from which they’re still recovering today. Both were the only two survivors in the crash that killed five other Airmen.
From Jan. 17-21, Simone and Aguilera participated in the inaugural adaptive fitness and sports camp. The inaugural camp, hosted at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, introduced roughly 35 Air Force, Navy and U.S. Special Operations Command wounded warriors to adaptive fitness, sports and recreational programs implemented throughout the military and within their local communities.
During the five-day camp, wounded warriors participated in adaptive golf and bowling, aquatics, cycling, strength and conditioning, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball. The camp is part of the Air Force’s Adaptive Fitness and Sports Program, which provides quality of life programs supporting nearly 1,300 wounded, ill or injured Airmen.
“A lot of the wounded warriors are at a point where their rehabilitation has come to a standstill and this is their new ‘normal,'” said Master Sgt. Elisha Abercrombie, a camp coordinator and sports specialist with the Air Force Services Agency, which hosted the camp with the U.S. Paralympics. “Their injury is not getting any better or any worse for them, but bringing the warriors to a fitness and sports camp helps get them back into the game of life.”
Officials said the goal of the camp was to familiarize the wounded warriors with fitness and sports they can do with their friends and families as well as other opportunities provided by organizations such as the U.S. Paralympics.
“Not only does the camp teach us ways to get to our new normal, our new 100 percent, through adaptive (sports), but it helps us connect with others who are going through the same thing we are,” said Aguilera, who suffered numerous injuries including broken bones. “That lets us know we’re not the only one with these challenges.”
During the crash, Simone suffered a brain injury that put him in a coma for six weeks and made it difficult for him to walk and speak. Simone’s wife said the adaptive sports camps give him a sense of camaraderie, accomplishment and greater purpose. Before his injury, Simone said he loved outdoor sports such as cycling and archery and was thankful he could still do them through adaptive equipment.
“Being able to participate in adaptive sports means the most to me out of anything I do while recovering,” he said.
Abercrombie said the camps help offer a sense of resilience for both the wounded warriors and their families. They can still do fitness and recreational activities, but just in a new way.
“Wounded warriors and families need to know they don’t just have to sit at home; they can go out into the real world and still participate in the fitness and recreational activities they enjoyed before,” she said. “It’s very important for them to understand their life doesn’t stop.”
Andrea said she appreciates the adaptive sports camps for giving wounded warriors and families an outlet to help them transition to their new lives.
“I’m really grateful for the Air Force and U.S. Paralympics for bringing awareness to our wounded warrior communities and giving back to them because they’ve given so much to our country,” Andrea said. “We’re so appreciative for these experiences and can’t say thank you enough.”
Air Force officials plan to conduct the adaptive fitness and sports camps once a quarter. For more information about the Air Force Services Agency, visit www.afsv.af.mil. For more information about the Air Force Wounded Warrior program, visit www.woundedwarrior.af.mil.