Staff Sgt. relearns favorite hobby during Adaptive Sports Camp
By Senior Airman Lindsey A. Porter, 11th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 28, 2013
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Staff Sgt. Thomas McAfee was one among more than Air Force Wounded Warriors to participate in the first-ever Air Force Warrior Adaptive Sports Camp held at Joint Base Andrews June 26 and 27.
During the two-day competitive sports camp, McAfee and warriors like him were introduced to adaptive sports, designed to help the service members along their individual roads to recovery. Events such as wheelchair basketball, track and field, sitting volleyball and archery, encouraged all warriors to physically work through their injuries and pursue an active lifestyle.
Before arriving at the Malcolm Grow Medical Clinic and Surgery Center's patient squadron on Andrews, McAfee was stationed at Lajes Field Air Base, Azores, as an aircraft electrical environmental systems craftsman. It was there in March of 2008 that he first realized something wasn't right.
"I started having headaches and shooting pains down my back and arms after I had just come back from a Chemical Warfare Exercise in Korea," McAfee said. "Those pains lead to me first being diagnosed with a herniated disk in my neck."
In order to repair his disk, McAfee underwent surgery where doctors surgically fused his spine and neck. Months after the procedure, and well on his way to recovery, unexpectedly McAfee again started having problems.
"I was at PT one day and felt a pain in my shoulder," McAfee said. "After finding four blood clots in my arm and shoulder, I was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where I was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Pressure was building in my nerves, arteries and veins. I had to undergo more surgeries in order to relieve all my internal compression."
Surgery to remove one of his ribs helped relieve some pressure but due to post-surgery complications, McAfee was left with a paralyzed bicep and the possibility of never being able to use his arm again.
A life-long archer, the idea of never being able to shoot his bow again was something he could not accept.
"I grew up shooting bows," he said. "After everything, I went home and one of the first things I did was to try and shoot my bow. When I tried to pull it back, I physically couldn't do it; the draw weight was too much for me. I thought 'I'll never be able to shoot my bow again.' It was really disappointing."
While months of physical therapy helped McAfee regain motion in his arm, being able to hold an average bow remained difficult. The lighter-weight archery bow provided by the Air Force Warrior Adaptive Sports Camp however, encourages McAfee and the other warriors to remain optimistic when thinking about their injuries and their current range of motions.
"The camp provided us with adapted, lighter-weight bows," McAfee said. "These bows have as low as a 15 pound draw weight. Compared to an average 70 pound weight, it's a big difference."
Along with providing the warriors with adaptive equipment, each sport is also instructed by athletes from former Warrior Games. Instruction by service members with similar situations encourages all interested camp attendees to pursue healthy competitive goals as well as entertain the idea of a spot in the Warrior Games.
"As instructors, we're trying to pass on some of the knowledge we've learned," said Capt. Sarah Evans, Air Force Warrior Adaptive Sports Camp instructor. "In this way, next year when we can have selection camp, (the camp participants) can learn how to do this competitively if they want to and go on to the (Warrior Games) teams."
After this year's adaptive sports camp, McAfee remains encouraged. Honored with the opportunity to regain part of his shooting confidence, McAfee is excited to see where applying what he's learned during the two-day camp will lead him to accomplish.
"Now that I've seen that I can do this, I'm excited," McAfee said. "Sometimes, it's still hard for me to even brush my teeth, but archery here is something I can hopefully do and take advantage of. This experience has been fantastic."