Warriors fight on

Published 8:12 pm Saturday, September 27, 2014

U.S. Army retired Sgt. Monica Southall hurls the discus, something she has done well at both the Invictus Games in London and the Warrior Games in Colorado, with the gold medals to prove it. (Department of Defense Photo by Marvin Lynchard)

U.S. Army retired Sgt. Monica Southall hurls the discus, something she has done well at both the Invictus Games in London and the Warrior Games in Colorado, with the gold medals to prove it. (Department of Defense Photo by Marvin Lynchard)

Suffolk is well-represented at the 2014 Warrior Games, with competitors at both end of the spectrum in terms of experience.

U.S. Army Sgt. Monica Southall is a decorated veteran of the Games, while retired Navy Legalman 1st Class Shahnaz Askins is participating for the first time.

The Warriors Games, which begin today in Colorado Springs, Colo., were founded in 2010 to encourage wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans to stay physically active through adaptive sports.

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Those sports currently include archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, shooting, track and field and swimming.

“I am extremely excited to be part of Team Navy and compete at my first Warrior Games,” Askins said.

The paths leading Southall and Askins to the Games are not altogether dissimilar. Both were proven athletes before sustaining injuries while on deployment.

At Nansemond River High School, Southall played volleyball and basketball and participated in track and field, and continued all of those activities at Virginia State University, adding on softball.

Askins was a weightlifter and participant in Crossfit competitions.

After graduating, Southall had $26,000 in student loans. Finding a way to pay them, she said, “I signed on the dotted line and joined the Army.”

Askins joined the Navy hoping to take advantage of the generous education benefits offered; she wanted to pursue advanced degrees that would prepare her for post-military life. She is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree at Regent University.

Southall has sustained serious injuries on more than one occasion, but while deployed in Afghanistan in 2009, she fell from the top of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected truck. She had a bilateral shoulder rotator cuff/labrum injury, right knee anterior cruciate ligament/meniscus injury and lower lumbar spinal stenosis.

She said she cannot be completely healed from these injuries and is due for another surgery on her right knee, but she is able to be mobile without use of a wheelchair.

“I do have a cane, but I don’t use it,” she said. “I only use it when needed.”

While deployed in Iraq in 2004, Askins’ experiences in combat led to post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities. Her condition was further aggravated during a subsequent deployment to Kuwait, and she did not receive treatment for her condition until 2009.

Both women were eventually presented with the important outlet of adaptive sports, which Southall said pretty much allowed her to “be an athlete all over again.”

At the Warrior Games in 2010, she won the gold medal in the seated shot put and followed it up in 2012 with gold medals in the standing shot put and sitting volleyball. Last year, she took home gold for the shot put and discus, while earning silver in sitting volleyball.

Earlier this month, she competed in London for Team USA in the inaugural Invictus Games, organized by Prince Harry. It was an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, featuring more than 400 competitors from 13 nations.

“Overall, I was just excited to be there for the first time,” Southall said of London.

She was also very successful in the field events.

“I clearly out-threw the competition there,” she said.

Southhall threw the discus 31.98 meters, while the nearest competitor reached about 23 meters. In the shot put, she logged an 11.17-meter mark, with the nearest competitor reaching about eight meters.

In wheelchair rugby and sitting volleyball, she earned silver medals.

“I was very grateful for the opportunity that Prince Harry gave us,” Southall said. “It was an awesome event, and it’s definitely something that I’ll never forget.”

She will compete in the shot put, discus and sitting volleyball events this week at the Warrior Games. Askins will compete in swimming and track and field events.

There are more than 200 athletes competing this year, comprising five U.S. teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations.