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Airman multitasks, excels at Warrior Games

McChord Airman earns bronze in volleyball, finishes fourth in discus, shotput during recent Warrior Games

Published: 04:05PM May 17th, 2012
Airman multitasks, excels at Warrior Games

Val Gempis

Keith Sekora throws a discus during the track and field competition of Warrior Games 2012 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 4. Val Gempis/U.S. Air Force.

One week before the third annual Warrior Games Keith Sekora picked up a discus and shot put for the first time.

The 446th Airlift Wing explosive ordnance disposal technician spent just eight hours training in the events before he took to the Warrior Games stage in Colorado Springs, Colo. April 30 to May 5. Sekora’s determination and resiliency led to the technical sergeant placing fourth in both events at the games.

Sekora was also a member of the Air Force’s sitting volleyball team that took home the bronze medal.

“My goal when I got there wasn’t to win a medal, it was to beat myself and my times. To be competitive again and be part of a team,” the 42-year-old said. “I managed to do that and come out with a medal.”

The Warrior Games are designed to introduce injured or wounded service members to paralympic sports. More than 200 service members competed in this year’s games.

For Sekora, the Warrior Games was a big step forward from where he was two years ago.

Sekora was injured during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 when shrapnel from an improvised explosive device struck the back of his neck. He suffered four strokes and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress, memory loss, vertigo and loss of feeling on the left side of his body.

Sekora was asked to try out for the Air Force team after he participated in an adaptive sports clinic last fall. He trained for about six months and attended the selection camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy at the end of March.

Before his injury the 6-foot-6-inch competitor was active in lacrosse, swimming and volleyball. The Warrior Games gave him the opportunity to find the competitive drive he missed.

“It’s not for medals,” Sekora said. “It gets Airmen and Soldiers and Sailors off the couch that are wounded and gives them a purpose ... I don’t know if I would be as well healed as I am if it wasn’t for it.”

Sekora is still learning how to adapt to his injuries. Playing a sport that requires the use of both hands can be a challenge when there is no feeling in one of them.

“You have to roll with the punches,” he said. “Playing volleyball, I couldn’t feel the ball in my left hand. Sometimes the ball would go off in its own direction because the left hand decided to smack it harder than the right.”

Sekora also was slated to compete in the 50-meter freestyle and the combined 200-meter freestyle relay swimming events at the games, but an injury to his left shoulder left him unable to compete.

The day before Sekora flew to Colorado Springs, the technical sergeant was dressed in his blues at Safeco Field. Sekora threw an honorary first pitch at the Seattle Mariners’ Salute to Armed Forces game April 21. He then witnessed Chicago White Sox pitcher Philip Humber throw the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history.

“That was a humbling experience to go out there and throw the first pitch and represent the Air Force,” Sekora said, “and a bit overwhelming.”

The following morning Sekora was on a plane headed for the Warrior Games.

In less than two weeks Sekora will medically retire from the Air Force Reserves, but he is already making plans. His experience at the Warrior Games encouraged him to seek out opportunities with Seattle Adaptive Sports and to find someone who can coach him in how to throw the discus and shot put for next year’s Warrior Games.

“So when I go back next year I can win a medal,” Sekora said. “I have to better my position.”