COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- She was competing in track and field and indoor rowing, but medically retired Air Force Senior Airman Karah Behrend couldn't concentrate on training June 2 for the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy here.
For the first time, Behrend was going to meet her 19-year-old biological sister, Crystal Boyd, who lives in Puyallup, Washington.
After training, Behrend anxiously waited until she was whisked off to the hotel for the meeting, which she said was surreal.
"I have been picturing this moment for a long time and for it to finally happen, I couldn't be happier," Behrend said. "We keep in touch through social media but we're trying to make plans for me to meet our dad and have them meet my family."
"I've been extremely excited but I knew it would happen sometime. I just didn't know when," Boyd said. "Throughout the time I've known her, she's gone through so much and watching her overcome everything right in front of my eyes, in person here at the DoD Warrior Games, is an honor. She's always had the strength and now she's going out and doing what we all knew she could do. I couldn't be more proud of her."
Boyd said she also can't wait to meet Behrend's family. "We've already talked about me visiting her and her family in Texas," she said. "I'm excited to meet my nieces."
Call to Service
Claiming Gilford, Connecticut, and Bradenton, Florida, as her hometowns, Behrend, 24, said she grew up moving around as a kid. She was adopted when she was four years old by an Army Ranger.
"My brother and I were adopted because when my biological dad got back from Desert Shield/Desert Storm, he wasn't really the same person. So my mom split with him pretty rapidly to get us out of the situation," she said. "As my mom told me about him, I was like, 'I need to meet him. This is half of me. I don't know who he is.' We somehow got in contact with him. I think through his sister randomly. I talked to him for two hours that night and found out I had a sister."
"Our dad told me about her and our brother while growing up, so I always knew about her. I just didn't know her. She actually got in contact with me. I never knew how to find her so I just waited," Boyd said.
Behrend said she's tried to meet up with her sister a few times throughout the years, but it's been difficult since she has been in the Air Force for the past six years.
Behrend said she joined the Air Force as a communications signals analyst because of her family's military legacy. "It's something I've always wanted to do," she said. "My grandfather served during the Vietnam era. My biological father was in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. My adopted dad was a Ranger down in Panama for the Panama crisis. It's just something our family does."
When Behrend reconnected with her biological dad, she said they had that military bond. "It was an immediate, talk about everything bond," she said. "I can call him and say, 'This is going on; what do I do?' He tries; we've been working on rebuilding that relationship. He said he will always be thankful that someone was able to come in and step into our lives to make sure we're OK."
In 2015, Behrend had a surgical complication that resulted in reflex sympathetic dystrophy. She said the neurological disorder impacts her involuntary functions such as temperature control, blood pressure, heart rate, pain, inflammation, swelling and other functions that a person doesn't actively control. When she runs, she said she feels like her leg will go out from under her.
"It causes a lot of pain, instability and weakness in my right leg," she said. "I also had a spinal injury from a car accident so it messes with my left one too."
Her sister has epilepsy. Behrend said her disability is rare but since both of their disabilities are neurological, it's an extra bond they can share and talk about.
Behrend has two little children as well as her sister to keep her motivated. "I don't want my kids growing up thinking that if something happens, you just stop your entire life," she said. "It's not what life it about. Life it experiences. I don't even see them as positive or negative anymore. Just experience it. It pushes me in one way or another but I grow."
She encourages others to push themselves as well. "It doesn't matter how early or late something happens or what he magnitude is. As long as you do it with all of your heart and you put everything you have into it, no matter what, it's going to work," she said passionately.
"Just because you have some kind of disability doesn't mean you can't overcome it," Boyd said. "You can't allow it to stop you from doing the things you want to do and the things you want to do. Even with obstacles, you can overcome whatever you truly put your mind to. Neither Karah nor I let our disorders define us. It's a part of us, but it is not us."
DoD Warrior Games
Behrend earned gold medals in her disability category in the women's discus and shot put competitions. She broke a record in shot put in her category.
Boyd said she's inspired not only by her sister but by the athletes at her first games.
"Watching everyone here inspires me," she said. "These athletes decided to serve our nation, and even after they've been injured in some way they still continue to serve by inspiring everyone around them."
Boyd added, "Even though you have a disability, it doesn't define you. With a good support system, anything is possible. As long as you put your mind to it, give some effort and trust those around you, things will start moving. Don't forget things take time. Don't stress if things don't happen as fast as you want them to."