MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – Medically retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ronnie Jeffrey Jimenez kissed his wife and hugged his father as he received his gold medal for the men’s H5 hand cycle category during the 2015 DoD Warrior Games here June 21.
For Jimenez, like so many others here, it’s been a long journey from the point of injury to competing for medals.
During a deployment to a combat zone, the former infantry platoon sergeant suffered a spinal cord injury and a traumatic brain injury. He said it took him years before he admitted to having post-traumatic stress, but once he did and sought help, his smile returned.
“For nine years, I wouldn’t admit I had any problems and wouldn’t talk about it," Jimenez sad. "I didn’t want anybody to know that I was dealing with certain things and couldn’t talk about them. I’d just start crying. I finally came to the reality that with dealing with PTSD, it’s not an anchor."
Adaptive Sports ‘Made Him Happy’
Patrice, Jimenez’s wife, recalled how adaptive sports changed her husband’s life.
“It was something new. It made him happy, and that made me happy,” she said. "He enjoys something again because he can’t run anymore, but he’s happy again. He goes to another place when he’s on that bike, and that’s his new happy place and that’s what I enjoy about that bike."
Jimenez acknowledged that he's been through "dark times" and still has treatment ahead of him. "But it’s nice, just being able to smile. The doctors remind me that my smile is contagious.”
He said riding is his happy place, and his wife said she noticed a positive change in him as he started participating in adaptive sports.
“I love when I hear people tell him, ‘I love your smile’ or ‘I love that smile,’" Patrice said.
Emotional Experience at Warrior Games
This year wasn't Jimenez's first successful experience at the Warrior Games. In 2013, he earned a gold medal in the hand cycle and silver medals in the men’s classified 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke and 100-meter freestyle.
“When I saw him cross the finish line at the Warrior Games in 2013 and throw his arms up in the air, that was really neat because it was like, ‘I did it,’" Patrice said.
She said she was standing next to his father, Ronnie Gomez Jimenez, and it "was the first time I ever saw his dad cry."
“It felt good. I was proud,” his dad said.
Jimenez’s mother said it’s emotional watching all of the athletes compete at the Warrior Games.
“I enjoy watching them, just to see that last person, how everybody’s cheering them on just to get them across the finish line; it’s so cool,” she said. “It’s very emotional to see that they’re trying. They’re doing their hardest and actually do very well. You don’t think they can, but they have it in them.”
Enduring Love for Sports
Jimenez began his love of sports with running as early as age six, competing in 5-kilometer events with his father and sister.
Later in life, he was getting ready to transition into long-distance running when he was injured. He needed a new outlet. He said he was introduced to the hand cycle, and with only a week of training, he completed a 40-plus-mile race.
“He was a runner, and when they asked him to ride the bike, I was like, ‘Does he know how to ride a bike? We never saw him on a bike,” his mom said with a smile that prompted a laugh from Jimenez.
He said he competes for his family, teammates and others.
“It’s great to be able to compete again and have fun, to have a sense of purpose,” he said. “There are a lot of emotions that go through it, every time I earn a medal, whether it’s hand cycling, swimming or whatever, I try to remember my guys who didn’t make it back from combat.”
He said his teammates inspire him, and he hopes that if anybody is inspired by him, that they will think, “I want to do what he can do.”
Jimenez will be competing in sitting shot put and discus and swimming later this week.