Disabled Veterans Inspired by Athletics

Army veteran Michael Fradera, 30, was the victim of an IED explosion that completely demolished the vehicle he was traveling in outside of Baghdad in August 2007.

Fradera woke up three days after the incident in a VA hospital in Texas to find that both of his legs had been amputated.

Like so many other wounded veterans returning from Iraq, Fradera was about to set out on a new chapter of his life, wherein he would be forced to relearn how to eat, sleep, and carry on with the everyday activities of life as an amputee.

"I went through a period of depression and hopelessness after I was released from hospital," Fradera explained. "I had to stay in a wheelchair, and felt that I couldn't do anything for myself. I was really, really mad."

Fradera was soon fitted with prosthetic legs and returned home to Lakeland, Fla., to began intensive physical therapy to regain his strength and relearn how to perform simple tasks that he once took for granted.

Though his depression and anger remained, Fradera soon found solace in an unlikely source: a weeklong sports clinic for disabled veterans.

"I was pretty much sitting at home all the time, and then the VA hospital told me about the program, and I thought I might as well try it," said Fradera.

Fradera joined over 50 recently injured military veterans who set out to overcome both mental and physical disabilities by participating in the first National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.

The summer sports clinic is the newest national rehabilitation special event sponsored by the Department of Veterans' Affairs along with Help Hospitalized Veterans, Veterans Canteen Service, American Optometric Association, Booz Allen Hamilton, Challenged America, Marchon, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, Cisco, Invacare and Top End. The clinic introduced wounded veterans to sports such as adaptive surfing, sailing, kayaking, cycling and track and field for week-long event in San Diego, Sept. 28 through Oct. 3.

"I don't think I've ever had such a good time before in my life," Fradera said. "And I think some guys walked away from the clinic a different person."

Learning More Than a New Sport

The goal of the sports clinic is not just to have disabled veterans play sports for a week, but to teach and encourage the participants to become active in their own communities, according to Sandy Trombetta, the VA special events coordinator.

"I think what they take home from this is they realize what they can do and not what they can't do," Trombetta said. "We all know that playing sports is important to them for alleviation of stress, as a way to cope, for weight control and good nutrition, and a lot of other secondary factors that are great medical outcomes."

"But beyond that, we know this program can help people be far more self actualized, better adjusted and more likely to be involved in the community around them when they return home at the end of the week," Trombetta added.

One of the most unique aspects of the summer sports clinic is that the veterans attending were encouraged to bring their personal therapists and family members to San Diego -- not only to have their friends and loved ones rooting them on from the sidelines, but to teach their families how to participate in these activities alongside the veterans.

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