Published: May 11, 2013
When Sean Hook cries, he cries big, thick tears.
They are tears of pain; the physical pain of being 'blown up three times ' in Iraq, the emotional pain of being a father who needs an iPhone reminder to pick up the kids from school.
The tears didn't come when his platoon was hit with an IED, or even the second time his platoon was hit with an IED.
'We were on a foot patrol in a market. I was 8 meters away from the IED. '
And the third time?
'The third time was just a grenade. '
Just a grenade.
'Soldiers, we come back and we're not the same person. Getting shot at and getting blown up, that changes a man. '
The tears didn't come back then. They came when he got home.
Sean cries when he thinks of his wife. Melanie Hook is the mother of their three beautiful children. Christian, Alexandra and Braden sat with mom in the front row Saturday at the opening ceremonies for the Warrior Games at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center.
Dad is 6-foot-3, 278 pounds.
'He's Superman to us, ' Melanie says.
He's in the shot put for the Army team, and I think he will win.
On Mother's Day, Sean says, he wouldn't be here competing for a gold medal without Melanie. Sean says he doesn't know where he would be.
'My wife ... '
Sean's voice trails off.
Big, thick tears.
'She's my rock. '
Recovering at home is hard part
Four years ago this month, Sean returned from Iraq. He got off a plane in Harrisburg, Pa., near their home in Altoona. His wife was there, waiting to finally see her husband again.
And Sean was angry.
'It was not a good day, ' Melanie says. 'It was exciting for myself and the kids. But for him it was the total opposite.
'He was like, 'Why are you here? This is not a celebration.' '
This was the beginning of a life Sean and Melanie never envisioned. For the next three years, Sean was with his family, but he wasn't.
'I was there. But emotionally I missed three years of their life. I was emotionless. '
Worse than a shoulder injury was the mental and emotional damage. Sean suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder that still inflicts unimaginable distress.
Sean attends his sons' Little League games, Melanie says. When a crowd grows too large, he leaves and returns later.
On the Fourth of July, the Hook family spent the day at an amusement park. Sean and Melanie stood in line for a funnel cake. A test firework exploded. Sean hit the ground.
'Even now I'm always looking over my shoulder, ' he says.
'The kids, they were seeing their dad cry for the first time, ' Melanie says. 'They saw how it had changed him. It was hard to see their dad that way. '
Despite the aftermath, Sean says he wouldn't change his path.
'Everybody's asking me, 'You have a family and kids at home. Why join the Army and do this?' I tell them, 'Why wouldn't I? I'm willing and able. I'm a true patriot. It's my duty.' '
And why tell their story?
The 260 veterans in the Warrior Games are heroically unafraid. Sean and Melanie want people to know the battle doesn't end when the gunfire stops.
'Honestly, deployment was the easy part, ' Melanie says. 'This is the hard part, not being overseas. Recovering is the hard part. '
Here is where the Warrior Games come in.
Sean grew up an athlete but had never thrown a shot put. He needed something, anything, to give him personal direction.
'Before the Warrior Games, I basically forgot how to smile, ' Sean says.
His personal best in the shot put is 56 feet. Sean believes he can hit 60.
So does Melanie.
'When you don't see your husband smile for three or four years, that is hard, ' she says. 'And then you see him out here just hanging out with his buddies and he's competing, I think, 'OK, this is why we continue to get help. Just to see him smile again.' '
I told Sean that his son, Christian, was cheering for the Army team when it was introduced.
Big, thick tears.
'He throws the shot put, too. '
Family's way of life embraced in Warrior Games
This is a new life for Sean and Melanie. It is different than the old one.
'I get my memory back slowly. I tell people, Everything I knew before Iraq is like a book. I just had to learn how to reference it, ' he says. 'Everything now, after Iraq, I have to take different steps in order to make it a memory. '
On a normal day, Sean has 25 alarms set into his iPhone - daily tasks such as taking his meds to attending physical therapy to doing laundry to picking up the kids from school.
'My wife takes a whole month of appointments and puts them into my phone, ' he says. 'It sounds like a small thing ... '
Big, thick tears.
'I couldn't ask for more than what she has done for me. That's not how it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be the other way around. '
Sean Hook is the Warrior Games.
So are Melanie, Christian, Alexandra and Braden Hook.
'I'm not here without them, ' Sean says.
I asked Sean if Sunday, Mother's Day, would have special meaning.
'It does. It does. I hope she knows that. '
She does now.