By Annette P. Gomes, U.S. Army Warrior Care and Transition
ARLINGTON, Va. -- After dealing with a back injury and several autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, Army Master Sgt. Aaron De Los Santos says his body paid a price.
“These diseases have really taken a toll on my health, both physically and mentally. I was not ready to [leave the Army], but my performance was slowing down and I just couldn't hang in with my team anymore,” De Los Santos said.
The Texas native, who is now on transitional leave from the Army, found support with another team: the adaptive reconditioning coordinators, coaches and trainers at the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas. The once-active sportsman began to develop a love for adaptive sports.
“I was hesitant at first, even for a guy like me who is active, physically fit and always competitive,” De Los Santos said. “I had issues with trusting those in charge.”
He continued, “I started with yoga and progressed with swimming and then cycling. I owe my success to Susan Wilson, Fort Hood's adaptive reconditioning coordinator; along with Carina Fleeman, my aquatics coach and trainer; and Robin Donald, my nurse case manager. They are awesome.”
Competing at Warrior Games
The first-generation soldier was also able to conquer another goal; making Team Army for the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games slated June 1-9 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I was scared and felt like I was done with not only the Army, but being active. I turned to my wife for motivation and purpose which ultimately got me back on track to keep on living,” De Los Santos said. “I was able to demonstrate to the Army, and to myself, that I still had what it took to fight, and win that fight.”
Instilled with strong values and family support, De Los Santos says he has a different approach to life when adversity happens.
“I am who I am, and I will never change. I stay humble no matter what. Some call me ‘Hug-a-Joe’ or ‘Softy,’ but that's who I am,” De Los Santos said. “I have learned that life isn't fair and it doesn't care who you are. It's what you're made of that counts.”
He added, “I found out what I’m made of when I was going through tough times.”
De Los Santos will retire in July.