HONOLULU -- A wounded warrior competed in his first adaptive athletics competition at the Wounded Warrior Pacific Invitational Jan. 8 in Honolulu.
Naval Aircrewman (Mechanical) Airman Brett Parks threw standing shot put and discus during the joint-service event for seriously wounded, ill and injured servicemembers. In addition to field sports, he is participating in multiple swimming events this week.
"This event has opened me up to a world that I didn't know before," said Parks. "We all have goals, but there's only so far you can go on your own when it comes to fitness and rehabilitation. This really raises the bar on my goals; when I go home, I have a purpose and new goals to strive for."
Parks was wounded Oct. 17, 2012 in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. when he came to the aid of a man being robbed at gunpoint. Parks - a husband and father with a second child on the way - was waiting to conduct a training session at his gym when he heard a man scream and decided to intervene. Two gunshots were fired at Parks; the first shot hit his abdomen, but the second shot missed him.
The bullet shredded his kidney, severely damaged a third of his colon and severed a major artery, disrupting blood flow to his right leg. His lower right leg was amputated, and Parks spent four months recovering from his wounds and learning how to use a prosthetic limb.
"The night it happened, my wife gave me a coupon and told me to remember to pick up milk," Parks recalls. "When I was running out the door I said, 'Bye baby; I love you.' I didn't come home for four months."
Parks is enrolled in Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) - Safe Harbor, the Navy and Coast Guard's wounded warrior support program. Many NWW enrollees, like Parks, were not wounded in combat; the program also supports service members who are diagnosed with a serious illness or have been injured in shipboard, liberty or training accidents.
All enrollees in NWW are encouraged to make adaptive athletics, which has many proven benefits, part of their recovery and rehabilitation efforts. NWW connects wounded warriors to adaptive athletic opportunities throughout the country. The Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials are jointly hosted by NWW and Navy Region Hawaii.
At the Wounded Warrior Pacific Invitational this week, wounded warriors are going head-to-head in a variety of sports, including as cycling; seated volleyball; swimming; track and field; and wheelchair basketball. Every athlete will receive a participation medallion at the conclusion of the event.
"This is event is one of many leading up to the Warrior Games, which will take place this fall," said NWW Cross-functional Division Lead Marty Martinez. "Brett has demonstrated tons of potential on the playing field, but, more importantly, he has a great attitude. It's a lot of fun to compete alongside him."
In addition to his athletic ambitions, Parks also has written a book about his experiences. Its working title is "Training for Life," and Parks has been reaching out to various publishers.
"Before I was wounded, I was the strongest I ever have been," said Parks. "My training before the incident physically, spiritually and emotionally prepared me for the challenge I would face. My doctors told me that I might not have survived if I hadn't been in such good shape.
It is true of anything in life: You need to be prepared, set a goal, never quit and find spiritual strength. With those four things, you can beat almost anything," he added.
Parks also has established an organization called Second Shot Ministry, which enables him to share his faith and journey to recovery. He serves as a motivational speaker at local schools, churches and companies. The organization's name has multiple meanings; literally, it refers to the second shot that missed him, and figuratively, it symbolizes his second chance at life.
"I am on Earth for a reason, and it's to spread a message of hope," said Parks.