PALM BAY, Fla. — The 2022 Warrior Games are taking place this weekend in Central Florida at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, with opening ceremonies scheduled for tonight, and one veteran said he’s going for the gold.
However, getting ready for the ride can sometimes be the most challenging part of the race.
What You Need To Know
- The 2022 Warrior Games are at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports this weekend
- A U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Palm Bay has been working to try to earn a gold medal
- Retired Sergeant Andrew Blackburn was shot in Iraq and had to learn to walk again
- Now he cycles at least three times a week and will compete in the Warrior Games
For retired U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Andrew Blackburn, it’s something he doesn’t take for granted.
“Being a Marine, we never want to lose,” Blackburn said.
Once he’s on the bike, it’s a sense of freedom.
“This is my happy place,” he said.
That’s why he spends at least three days a week pedaling away.
“The shortest ride is about an hour and 15 minutes, and the longest ride would be about three hours,” Blackburn said.
Sixteen years ago, that wasn’t the case.
“I needed that help to simply put a sock on my foot or a shoe on. I couldn’t reach it,” he said.
In 2006, Blackburn was on tour in Iraq when his life changed in an instant.
“We were three weeks away from coming home," he said. "I had my squad on a foot patrol, and a sniper had shot me.”
A shot from behind blew out his front hip and caused permanent damage.
“I don’t have a glute on this side. This is gone. There is a metal bar from here to here," Blackburn said. "I had a complete hip replacement. That took four surgeries and about five years.”
That fact makes his training regimen that much more impressive.
“I spent over a year learning how to walk again," he said. "To think I could get back to riding a bicycle with a great goal, but to get back and be competitive was only a dream. I couldn’t do it on my own.”
His support system helped make that dream turn into reality.
“Days when we aren’t happy, we reach into this little pocket here, open up a little motivation — some quotes my daughter had made for me,” Blackburn said.
And after every ride, he reflects on his journey.
“All of the other things that you’ve done and accolades that you’ve accomplished, but this right here, that’s what you do it for — my wife, my son and my daughter,” Blackburn said.
He continues to push past the hard days, thanks to the people and the Marine Corps mindset.
“What it teaches you is you can do a lot more than you think you can," Blackburn said. "Your mind is telling you to stop, but the Marines teach you that you can ignore that. It’s still there. It’s not like the pain isn’t happening, but you can push yourself far beyond what your mind is telling you. You can."