U.S. Paralympics Track and Field Championships Draw Military Heroes

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Jun. 20, 2013

U.S. Paralympics Track and Field Championships Draw Military Heroes

National competition is held at Trinity University Stadium

Paralympic athletes compete at Trinity
By Molly Mohr

Army Sgt. Ryan McIntoshSAN ANTONIO - Even with a carbon-fiber prosthetic leg, Army Sgt. Ryan McIntosh says there's no difference between running track in high school and now. A star football and track athlete in high school, McIntosh now competes in Paralympic sporting events after suffering a leg amputation while serving in Afghanistan.

"In high school, if you had an injury, you treated it, recovered, and went back to competing," McIntosh said. "With my leg, I just see it as another injury, something I can overcome. It was a setback, but I pushed through it."

McIntosh, who is originally from Colorado, was deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010. Only two months later, while walking with his unit in a single-file line through the Arghandab River Valley, he stepped on a pressure plate land mine. In an explosion that catapulted him 10 feet in the air, McIntosh lost part of his foot, remaining conscious the entire time. After being airlifted to an Army hospital in Kandahar, McIntosh's right leg was amputated below the knee.

With the birth of his second son only four short months away, McIntosh was determined in his recovery efforts. Just six weeks after his surgery, he received his first prosthetic and began exercising right away - so much that doctors took away his prosthetic for a while because he was working out too much. Now, he competes at various Paralympic events, such as the Warrior Games, a Paralympic-style competition for injured servicemen, and the Texas Regional Games, which were held at Trinity University in 2012 and 2013.

McIntosh's first experience at the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field National Championships occurred this past weekend at Trinity University Stadium from Friday, June 14, to Sunday, June 16. He was one of more than 130 athletes from six countries.

"I'm having so much fun here," McIntosh said. "It's really been a blast. I love meeting new people from all over the country."

The results of the national championships helped determine the U.S. team for the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships held in Lyon, France, next month. Only 76 of the athletes at the national championships - 51 men and 25 women - were selected to compete at the world championships.

"We love the facilities Trinity University offers for our events," said Wendy Gumbert, who was the meet director of the national championships and has more than 20 years of experience with Paralympic-style sporting events. "The Trinity staff is very helpful and accommodating, and the facilities are well-maintained and, most importantly, very accessible for our athletes. This was the perfect place for us to hold our national championships."

Despite weather delays due to lightning, the championships were studded with star performances, including two world records set by sprinter David Prince in the 400-meter and 200-meter races. Cassie Mitchell set a world record for her classification in the shot put event, throwing 6.14 meters. Another standout performance came from Tatyana McFadden, a defending world champion and 10-time medalist at the Paralympic Games, as she won all six of her events.

McIntosh competed in the 100-meter race, in which he placed fifth in his classification. He was one of 25 active duty U.S. service members or military veterans competing at the national championships. It wasn't hard to find another one of the 25, as a group of servicemen in their fatigues watching from the bleachers erupted in cheers for one of their own.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro"Those are my students," Israel Del Toro, Air Force tech sergeant, laughed. "They're here to cheer me on."

Del Toro, the first 100% combat-disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist for active duty, is an instructor at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He teaches students who aim to work in Air Force Special Operations.

A multi-medalist at the Warrior Games, Del Toro was once told he'd never walk again.  In December of 2005, while deployed in Afghanistan, he survived an IED explosion when his Humvee, a four-wheel drive military car, rolled over the roadside bomb. With 85% of his body covered in third degree burns, Del Toro was given a 50% chance of survival. He lost all of the fingers on his left hand except for his thumb, and the fingers on his right hand were amputated to the first knuckle. Despite spending four months in a coma, surviving more than 130 surgeries, and almost dying three times in the hospital, Del Toro continues to compete.

He participated in four events at the national championships: discus throw, javelin, shot put, and long jump, in which he placed seventh, fifth, sixth, and seventh in his classification, respectively. Like McIntosh, Del Toro's son serves as his inspiration.

"My son motivates me to keep pushing, keep competing," Del Toro said. "I want to show him that although Dad got hurt, he's not sitting around feeling sorry for himself. I want him to see that you can still be active and work out even with a life-altering injury. It's important to have a positive attitude."

Molly Mohr is a junior at Rice University and works in the Office of University Communications. Originally from San Antonio, she is pursuing a major in sport management and a minor in business.