Disabled Veterans Inspired by Athletics

Trombetta said that their hope in coordinating this new summer clinic was that the injured veterans would learn how to partake in new activities that they could then continue to enjoy, even after they went back home.

"With this program, we also trained care providers and family members and coaches how to do these activities in the hope they'd all learn together and could help [the veterans] to continue it when they get home," Trombetta said. "There's always a better outcome when there's a good support system, and we don't want this to be just a one-week thing for these guys."

Fradera was joined at the clinic by his wife as well as his physical therapist, Jennifer Day, an adaptive sports coordinator at the James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, Fla.

Day said she noticed a positive change in Fradera after he returned from the clinic.

"A lot of the wounded veterans -- and Mike is the same -- they run through all the levels of disappointment and they have a lot of anger towards themselves and towards others and family members," Day explained. "But I've seen a huge change in Mike from the time he said he'd go to the clinic to today."

"He's just been totally different. He communicates better, seems happier and more excited," Day added. "And I think this experience even improved his relationship with his wife -- she was constantly talking to me about problems with his anger but he really relaxed because of this and I saw that as the biggest change in him."

As One Door Closes, Another Opens

Fradera was not the only veteran who walked away from the clinic feeling invigorated.

Stephen Bruggeman, 46, lost his leg while serving in the military in Kodiak, Alaska. Like Fradera, Bruggeman said he experienced the waves of shock, grief and anger following the accident.

But Bruggeman said his life changed when he first stood up on a surf board at the summer sports clinic.

"I never would have thought I would have tried surfing, but the coach who taught us how to surf was also a right leg amputee below the knee, and he competes with people without disabilities and he wins," Bruggeman explained. "Seeing him out there really inspired me and showed me that there's a lot out there I can still do. And I stood up on the board."

Bruggeman, who lives in South Dakota, said he plans on continuing surfing even in his landlocked home state.

"It inspires us and reminds us of the things we can do and … we can investigate more and try to keep going with them," Bruggeman said. "Now I want to try kite-surfing on the lakes out here, so I'm gonna see if I can't try to pick that up, and I never would have thought to try it until I figured out that I had pretty good balance when I went out there to surf at the sports clinic."

Like Bruggeman, Fradera also took away a new-found hobby – and perhaps a life goal -- from this year's summer sports clinic.

"Hand cycling," Fradera said. "It's my goal now to hand cycle for the U.S. team in the Paralympics."

Beyond the experience of participating in so many activities that they never thought they'd be able to do, both Bruggeman and Fradera spoke of the unbelievable bond that formed between themselves and their teammates at the clinic.

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