LONDON – During his 10-year journey to reach his first Paralympic Games, one U.S. athlete found opportunity where some would not, and now he says he wouldn't change the path that led him here.
Eric Hollen, a member of the 2012 Paralympic shooting team and a former U.S. Army Ranger, was injured while on a special operations mission. In a Sept. 6 interview, he told American Forces Press Service has no regrets.
“It was an awesome opportunity,” he said. “When you suffer a catastrophic, life-changing injury like a lot of soldiers have, myself included, there's a time where that injury kind of defines you. Sports gives you an opportunity to shift gears from disability to ability, and that's what this sport has done for me. It's given me a chance to redefine myself.”
In addition to changing his own path, Hollen said, his injury also changed his family's.
“Ten years into my injury, my daughter trains at the Olympic Training Center with me,” he said. “She's a junior ski racer. She has an opportunity to do things that she would have never had if I hadn't gotten hurt. So now, at this point, I wouldn't trade the injury for the guy I was before I got hurt.”
The former Army Ranger talked about his experience competing here and nothing compares to the pressures of Paralympic competition.
“Until I got here, I thought my special operations training would help take some of the edge off of this,” Hollen said. “But there's no way to replicate the pressure when you shoot under here. It's very difficult to manage expectations and then be able to be still for two hours and shoot your shot process the way that you do at any other match.”
Hollen said his focus usually is process-driven, and when he follows his training, he's usually able to execute to his full potential.
“You have to put process ahead of outcome, and usually I do that,” he explained. “I manage that stress pretty well. The things that I do to shoot the shot accurately are … not really using my active conscience. I'm in, kind of a quiet place, letting my unconscious effort do the work.”
The process was really difficult to apply here, Hollen said, because the opportunity comes only once every four years. Preparing to compete here differs from loading up to go on a combat mission, he added. “This is much more 'You're the man,' going in all by yourself,” he said. “You're just sitting out there trying to get still and do a good job.”
Hollen said he believes his experience during these Paralympic Games will benefit him in the 2016 Paralympic Games, set to take place in Rio de Janeiro.
“So I'm thinking Rio won't be quite so hard,” Hollen said. “I would say that my military training did help me, but the only thing that really helps you is being here, shooting and dealing with the stress.”
Although he didn't earn a medal during his first Paralympics, Hollen said, he gave it his all and was excited to represent his country.
“I have the ability to shoot that well, [and] I shot every shot with max effort, but I wasn't able to get it done,” he said. “[The experience] was good. I wouldn't trade the opportunity for anything. It's been a long [journey], and I'm just pleased to be here.”
Hollen said he looks forward to passing his knowledge on to other U.S. athletes and showing them the benefits of sports to overcome their injuries and disabilities.
“[I'm] looking forward to any chance I have to mentor and help newly injured veterans get into sport -- whatever it is, whether it's shooting or something else,” he said. “It's a great way to shift gears and get back on track.”
Hollen expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to compete here.
“It was really great -- a great opportunity to represent my country -- [and] I'm very proud to be here,” he said. “It took me 10 years to be here.”