Laura Root’s brow was dripping sweat as she pulled back hard on a rowing machine Wednesday at Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The effort paid off for Root with a third-place showing during the second day of the Valor Games Southeast, a series of adapted sports for emotionally and physically disabled military veterans.
Root, a Navy veteran, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in the middle of her military career, and had to retire. She’s had some tough times in the past two years, but the Valor Games have been good medicine.
She said most veterans like to be independent and view themselves as “warriors who can handle anything.” But the truth is that many need help.
“We need the civilian population to understand what we went through, so they’ll know what we’re dealing with when we come home,” she said. “A lot of veterans never go back to being 100 percent civilian again.”
Root said one of the best ways to help is to listen to veterans.
“We also need a lot of help getting medical coverage,” she said. “Every veteran I know has a horror story with military medicine or the (Veterans Affairs Department). We need friends and family to help us through the endless paperwork, the pain and the medication. We need patience. It’s a long process.”
Root spoke of the veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who kill themselves, more than 20 a day.
“When we lose someone on the home front, it’s even more of a tragedy than losing them in combat,” she said.
“We need more attention to those returning with PTSD,” Root said. “They might not have a physical limitation, but they still need support.”
One Army veteran with PTSD at Wednesday’s games was April Snesmith, who was practicing table tennis for a competition later in the day.
“We’re trying to be part of society,” she said. “Don’t feel sorry for us, because we don’t feel sorry for ourselves. Give us your support.”
Some veterans are unemployable but can still do volunteer work in fields for which they’re trained, she said.
“I have pharmacy and paramedic certificates that I can’t use anymore, but many of us can volunteer. That would make us feel better.”
Veteran Peter Way, who was wounded by an explosion in Afghanistan, had his leg amputated but now has a new, high-tech one that’s improved his life.
“It has a computer-controlled hydraulic unit along with motion and pressure sensors,” he said. “It knows what direction I’m moving and where my weight is going.”
Way, an Army’s special operations veteran, was competing in archery outside Duke’s Wilson Gym.
He can program his new leg for activities like cycling, running, golfing and hiking. The leg is waterproof, which allows him to swim, go boating and kayaking.
Way said the Valor Games are therapy without unwanted side effects.
“There’s a lot of therapy in being able to hang around guys who understand why maybe you’re a little strange, why you may do things differently than other people,” he said. “These guys get it.”
Way said he loves it when people thank him for his service to the nation.
“I think that’s awesome,” he said. “I always tell them I appreciate their support.”