Veteran Competing at Army Trials, Hoping to Advance to Warrior Games
Running blind is just a euphemism for most people, but Sgt. Sean Johnson is doing it competitively.
Johnson, of Aberdeen, has been competing in recent days in the Army Trials 2016 with hopes of advancing to the Department of Defense Warrior Games in June.
It's not a run-of-the-mill competition. The trials are for injured or disabled veterans.
This is the third year that Johnson has competed. In both 2014 and 2015, he advanced to the Warrior Games. He said he is the only South Dakota veteran in the Army Trials, which wrap up Thursday.
Johnson was injured while serving in Iraq and is legally blind. Now in Texas for the trials, he is competing in track and field, swimming and cycling.
He got to Fort Bliss early last week to get tips from trainers before the games started.
"Basically what we are doing here, for the first week, we are tweaking our techniques," Johnson said. "The training we do down here is pretty intense."
When training, the veterans have three areas of focus — resilience, strength and core.
"They train mind and body. They train your entire body for competition," he said.
Just because a veteran medals in an event doesn't mean he or she will be on the Warrior Games team.
"They look for athletes that compete in multi-events. They only have so many slots," Johnson said.
About 100 athletes will be selected for the Warrior Games, according to information about the Army Trials.
"The coaches and managers have a difficult choice in the end," he said.
The Warrior Games are open to former members of all branches of the armed forces and even some international counterparts.
"Last year, we had the British component and some of the Australia components were there. It's a pretty big competition. They come from all over the US and overseas," Johnson said.
If Johnson medals at the trials, he'll need to stay in shape and train for the Warrior Games in New York. And there are competitions that lead up to the Army Trials, so he has already logged plenty of hard work.
"There's a lot of training that goes into getting here," he said. "Athletes out here compete intensely. You have to really put out an effort to really win a place."
Since he cycles and runs with a guide, there are some challenges to training in Aberdeen.
"It's a little difficult when I go home," he said. "I don't have full-time access to trainers and (guides). ... I do a lot of it on my own. When I can, I train with someone"
Johnson said he works out at the Aberdeen Family YMCA.
"I use the Y for swimming and lifting weights and some running. (I do) cycling at home," he said.
But he doesn't always have access to a guide to help him train on his bike like he does when he competes.
"I have a tandem cycle. We ride the course. He guides and steers, and I'm the engine," Johnson explained.
He competes against other visually impaired athletes who also use guides.
"There's probably 200 athletes in the Warrior Games. We really represent the top of the wounded athletes. It's a big honor to do that," Johnson said.
The programs help veterans rehabilitate.
"The Army puts pride in really ... bringing us back from our wounds as much as we can," he said. "You never completely recover, but you get to your best level."
To Johnson, the benefits are noticeable.
"I've been able to function better physically. I'm able to get up, get going. There was a time period where I spent a lot of time on the couch, in the bed with migraines," he said. "(Now,) I'm physically and mentally stronger. It's really helped me turn around from (the mindset that) I'm injured, I can't do anything. It made a positive out of a negative. That's a big step for someone who wants to keep a positive."
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