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Paul Klee: Transition a common challenge for uncommon athletes at Warrior Games

By: Paul Klee
June 5, 2018 Updated: June 6, 2018 at 1:19 pm
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Power lifting and shooting took place during the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Tuesday June 5, 2018 in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

His wife sent the video that made Jason Melo’s Tuesday. Melo, a member of Team Canada, had just completed three attempts in the powerlifting competition inside the Air Force Academy’s Cadet Gymnasium.

Did they go as well as he had hoped? Not really. But it’s all relative here at the Warrior Games. Success isn't defined by gold, silver or bronze. A day earlier, Melo almost left the sitting volleyball event because the noise and activity became overwhelming, he has difficulty sleeping just about every night, and he said Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a part of his daily life. During Melo's first lift Tuesday, a packed crowd that brought chants and Fathead cutouts tickled his nerves, and the active duty bombardier seemed a bit bummed out by his performance.

Didn’t last long.

Jason Melo (Photo courtesy of DODWarriorGames.com) 

“My wife told me my 3-year-old son was watching from back home in Canada,” Melo said. “She sent a video of him. He’s yelling into the iPad, cheering me on. I watched it a couple times.”

After a noteworthy pause, Dad said, “I got a little choked up.”

Same.

And whenever I’m afforded the opportunity to meet these incomparable athletes, the same thing often happens when I ask, “What’s next?” The transition from military to civilian life can choke up even the most powerful individuals. Some anticipate the next step with a sturdy plan, such as Jason Melo with his intentions to become a civil engineer and “be a great dad.” Jason’s only 32, you know? My guy still has a full life to live.

“One thing I want to do when I get back home and start a sitting volleyball league,” he said.

Unfortunately, others find the transition a heavy burden to bear.

180602-D-DB155-001
Medically retired Air Force Senior Airman Karah Behrend prepares to throw discus during the 2018 Warrior Games at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. June 2, 2018. The sisters met for the first time in person at the games. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom) 

“They call it the ‘suicide disease,’” Team Air Force member Karah Behrend said of the ailment from which she suffers, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which she said causes severe pain in her lower body.

Have you attempted suicide?

“Which time?” Behrand said.

Behrand said she is medically retired from the Air Force. She has two young daughters who enjoy tiaras, bracelets and necklaces — “Princess stuff,” Mom says — and singing along to pop star Meghan Trainor. She said the transition still left her with a lingering question: “What’s my purpose?”

“This (the Warrior Games) helps. It definitely does,” Behrand said. “I have 300 of the coolest brothers and sisters you’d ever meet. They’d drop everything to help me out at any time.”

As I see it, the three C’s of the Warrior Games are camaraderie, competition and corrective, in no particular order. The majority of the athletes say it’s the camaraderie they miss most, a competitive spirit that never retires and a certain measure of healing that sometimes takes place. Charles Dane, a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, earned a silver medal in his shooting event on Tuesday. He was deployed on four occasions — twice to Iraq, twice to Afghanistan.

“I’ve actually really enjoyed retirement,” said Dane, who beamed as he spoke of his three daughters at home in Virginia — 16-year-old Destiny, 15-year-old Kaitlyn and Annabelle, 13.

“Just waiting for them to graduate. I’ll get back to Texas eventually,” Dane said. “You can’t throw a rock and not hit one of us (Marine Corps veterans) in Texas. We always say, 'Once a Marine, always a Marine.'”

He was 10 years into his military career when Dane was diagnosed with kidney failure and learned his kidneys were functioning at 50 percent.

“Then I did another 10 years,” he said, including a handful of 140-degree afternoons in Kuwait.

You wouldn’t think it gets tougher than 140 degrees with failing kidneys.

Afterward, it can.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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