Sunday, June 28, 2015

Swimmer Uses Imagery Skills to Earn Warrior Games Medals

By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., June 28, 2015 – Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike McPhall earned gold medals in the men’s 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter breaststroke and in the men’s 200-meter relay and a silver medal in the men’s 50-meter backstroke during the swimming competition at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Virginia, yesterday as part of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games.

During the Army trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, in March, McPhall worked with a sports and exercise psychology performance expert, Dr. Scott Barnicle, who taught him techniques he credits with helping him earn his medals.

“Sitting at the starting blocks, thinking about how I’m going to swim through the water, imagining myself beating everybody, and then it turned out that way. It really helped with the nerves,” McPhall said.

He said his confidence grew after he got his first swim event, the 50-meter freestyle, out of the way. “I was set from there,” he said. “I knew the backstroke was going to be harder. It’s one of my weaker events, but I’m still proud of what I did. I gave it my all, and that’s all I can do.”

McPhall, who teaches the Armored Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, has Type 1 diabetes and Scheuermann’s disease. “It’s kind of like lupus. It has to deal with my skin and my muscles grouping,” he explained. He said the only exercise he can really do is swimming. “This is therapeutic, but I can also compete in it, so it makes it less boring,” he added.

Relaxation and Imagery

Barnicle said he teaches the swimmers how to relax and what a relaxed state is. “We take them through some relaxation exercises, slowing down their minds, slowing down their deliberate breathing and really helping them realize what a relaxed state is,” the doctor said. “And the reason for that skill is they can use it with their sleep, and they can use it before a performance to help with their stress.

“With imagery” he continued, “we really try to help them see and experience an event ahead of time, and it helps them really get a good sense of what to expect, and that sense of expectation helps them lower their stress levels and helps them feel a higher sense of self-esteem and self confidence that they have the skills to be able to handle that event.”

Barnicle said the athletes also can use these skills in work, at home and in everyday life.

“He not only taught us race preparation of how to focus and get the nerves out, but he also went over sleep habits,” McPhall said. “His class put me to sleep, and I hadn’t slept like that in probably months, so it was great. It was awesome.”

McPhall, who’s been in the Army for 19 years, said the techniques also helped him earn his first medals of the Warrior Gameson June 23: bronze medals in the 100-meter and 800-meter wheelchair races. “It was awesome; I was just really proud,” he said. “I got to support my team, because that’s what it’s all about here -- just the team. I already got my medals back at Bliss. Now it’s a team medal, so whatever I can do, I’m just happy to get it for the team.”

Warrior Games Athlete’s Illness Strengthens Couple’s Bond

By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., June 28, 2015 – U.S. Special Operations Command veteran Sean Walsh earned silver medals in the 100-meter freestyle, 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter backstroke and a bronze medal in the 50-meter breaststroke in swimming competition yesterday at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Virginia, as part of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games.

He earned a bronze medal June 21 in the men’s upright cycling open category, and he will compete here today in the men’s 4-by-100-meter relay and the 1,500-meter run.

Walsh said doesn’t really pay attention to whether he earns medals when he competes. Between competitions, he visits with his wife of six years, Caroline, and their 15-month old son, Tommy.

“It’s incredible to have her out here -- to have her see me race at this level in this state is absolutely incredible -- so I’m very, very fortunate to have her in my life,” he said.

How They Met

Walsh had just graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, and was in Beijing when he met Caroline. “We were both studying Chinese,” she said. “He had just graduated from West Point, and one of his former roommates was in my language study program, so we all went out to dinner together. I always think very fondly about his friend who introduced us.”


Walsh started as an infantry officer, but crossed over after four years into civil affairs. The former captain said he went out for a run while he was deployed three years ago, and he got so tired e didn’t know if he would be able to make it back.

“I went from doing half Ironmans and training for a marathon and then suddenly, I couldn’t run at all,” he said. “I’m in the middle of nowhere, and it was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it back.’ Unfortunately, it was the most tired I had ever been in my life.”

Caroline Walsh said she was in graduate school in New Jersey, and her husband was at Fort Bragg in North Carolina after he returned from overseas, and he told her he needed to go to the doctor.

“He called me a little later that afternoon and said, ‘I’m actually going to have to go into the [intensive care unit]. I’ve got Type 1 diabetes,” she recalled. “It was just something that never crossed our minds, so I just jumped in the car and sped down. From the minute I got to the hospital, everybody was wonderful. The support was just fantastic, even though it was terrifying and [he had] a new life to adjust to.

Walsh now wears a pump that provides him with insulin 24 hours a day.


Caroline helps him keep his insulin in check, Walsh said. “There’s been a bunch of times where I’ve gotten too low, like I give myself too much insulin and my blood sugar drops, and she’s been there to take care of me, and that’s been incredibly supportive,” he said. “I can’t imagine her not being there. I would’ve been very lost without having her there. It would’ve been much tougher, because I was also part of a common identity. … I’m not a soldier [any more], but I’m still a husband, and I have to concentrate on that. She’s my rock.” Caroline said she is proud of how her husband is handling his illness.

“He’s handling it really well. I’m really proud of him,” she said. “There are hard days, and there are things that are frustrating. It just sort of adds a new level of complication to life, but he’s doing great, and in some ways, I think it’s made him more determined. I think it’s maybe made him a more focused athlete, and it’s made him more grateful for everything that he has.”

The illness has made them a stronger couple, she added.

“It also made us realize that we could really deal with anything, and I think it’s made us [stronger],” she added. “It happened before Tommy was born, but I think it’s made us stronger parents too, because we know what we’re capable of.”

Pursuing Excellence

Walsh said he swam in high school and a little bit at West Point, and that he uses adaptive sports to control his illness and to reassert that control over his life by training.

“I got a coach. I got all the great things that the Military Adaptive Sports Program offers, and I was able to use that to help control my diabetes,” he said. “It was really phenomenal. When I got sick, and I had to leave the military, I was like, ‘This is my new identity.’

“I’m going to become the best athlete I can,” he continued. “And when I say the best athlete, I don’t mean about winning races -- it’s about being the best that you can be and pursuing excellence.”

Walsh added that this has translated beyond sport, providing the drive and dedication to be a great father, a great husband and a great worker. His goal, he said, is to become elite enough to join an all-diabetic pro cycling team and join a diabetic triathlon club so he can inspire others with diabetes

Marine Pushes Through Pain to Win Warrior Games Gold

By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., June 28, 2015 – Medically retired Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sarah Rudder earned gold medals in the women’s 50-meter freestyle and 100-freestyle and a silver medal in the women’s 50-meter backstroke in classification 4.5 in swimming competition at Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Virginia, yesterday as part of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games.

She also earned a bronze medal last night in volleyball.

Rudder earned her first gold medal in the women’s 100-meter run in track, and followed it up with silver medals in the women’s shot put and discus, classification 3.5 in field events June 23, and she will compete in the women’s 200-meter run today.

Winning her first gold medal felt amazing, Rudder said, especially because she was pushing through an injury and was having trouble with her amputated leg. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to complete the race, but I just stuck with it and I got the gold medal,” she said. “It was a relief crossing the finish line.”

Her father, Kenny DuFresne, and stepmother, Lorraine, weren’t able to see her compete earlier in the week, but they watched her earn her bronze medal in volleyball last night and will see her compete today. “I’m proud of her doing this and going through what she’s going through,” DuFresne said. “It keeps her active. It’s awesome.”

“I’m very proud of her,” his wife added. “She’s made so much progress in a year. It’s so fantastic that she medaled her first time out. She’s always been a winner, but this just proves that she is one.”


Rudder first injured her ankle when she went through the Crucible in boot camp and was on the path of healing when she re-injured it on Sept. 11, 2001. She was serving at the Pentagon.

“I was put on a working party for search and rescue, and when I was pulling nonsurvivors, I hurt my ankle again,” she said. “I was running on adrenaline, and didn’t feel anything at the time, because I wanted to do as much as I could at the time.”

She underwent five surgeries and had pieces of bone tearing up the cartilage in her ankle, so doctors took cartilage from her knee and placed in her ankle. She had metal rods put in, taken out, and so on until the decision to remove her limb and give her a prosthetic leg.

Adaptive Sports

Rudder ran track in high school and said training for the Warrior Games helps her feel like an athlete again, though since she is still a new amputee, she is still adapting to her prosthetic.

“I feel like I can challenge myself again and be an athlete, but it’s been a challenge to run on it,” she said. “I’ve been having issues with it being sore and fitting my socket correctly.”

She said she never stayed in that dark place of recovery. “There’s always a time where you feel like you’re not going to be whole again because you’re missing a piece, but once I got my prosthetic and I was able to go up and on it, I started teaching myself how to adapt,” Rudder said.

Warrior Games

Rudder said she has enjoyed her first Warrior Games because of the camaraderie and the chance to compete against people with similar challenges

“Being around Marines again and being able to compete against other branches lets me feel a sense of normalcy,” she said.

“Being around other people who have the same injuries allows us to know that it’s OK to hurt, it’s OK to not win every race, but to just go ahead and push yourself and try your hardest,” she added. “And because you’re competing against people on the same level as you that have gone through the same type of surgeries and disabilities as you, there’s nothing holding them back, and it shouldn’t hold you back, either.”

She said she doesn’t want people without injuries to discount wounded warriors. “We’re still human, and we’re pushing ourselves against other people who have the same injuries, because we are making ourselves feel whole and normal again, and being on that level of playing field, it’s allowed us to be strong,” she said.