A Golden Honor for Fallen Comrades at Warrior Games & Warrior Games Help to Recover

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Sailors

After enlisting in the Navy 20 years ago and completing his basic training at nearby Great Lakes Naval Station, Navy Lt. Ramesh Haytasingh is thrilled to end his military career here by participating in the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games.

Throughout the week, some 265 wounded and disabled military and veterans, representing teams from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command, British and Australian Defense Forces, will compete in biathlon, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, seated netball and wheelchair basketball.

Haytasingh won gold medals in sitting skiing and discus throwing yesterday. Tomorrow he will compete in air rifle and the following day in swimming.

At last year's games at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, Haytasingh received the Heart of the Socom Team award because he can't walk past an athlete, family member or coach without smiling, hugging and supporting them.

“He's always thinking of others, encouraging and supporting them,” said Kathy Bottrell. “I can't describe him. He's a wonderful person.”

Bottrell said Haytasingh is like an adopted son. She flew to Germany to be with her son after he was injured by an IED explosion in Afghanistan, and stayed with him while he recovered at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

“I love Ramesh like a son,” said Michael Bottrell. “He's one of my biggest heroes. He's like a hug parade. He's always been an inspiration.”

Injury

Haytasingh is a Socom training officer at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. He has served as an explosive ordnance disposal special operations technician on five deployments: in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2012 and in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. He assisted special operations forces in dismantling roadside bombs.

At one point, he was a member of Navy Seal Team 6. “Supporting the members of the Seal Team 6 community has been a most humbling experience,” he said. “They are the most professional Marines I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”

A surfing accident in 2013 damaged his neck and spinal cord and caused a traumatic brain injury. He lost his voice for two years.

“I went through some major losses and dark times, but as I was recovering, the community and my brothers in the community helped me,” Haytasingh said. “And as I slowly got involved, I started speaking for the first time in two and a half years. Life started to become an adaptive sport for me. Adaptive sports and brothers and sisters all over the world are an incredible and transformative blessing. I can't express it enough.”

Remembering the dead

For Haytasingh, participating in the DoD Warrior Games is not about winning medals, but about honoring his fallen brothers and sisters. “I wanted to compete in everything, but I had to choose three of my favorite sports: air rifle, swimming and discus throwing,” he said. “This is my last hurrah for my brothers that I've lost in the last 20 years. I have more than 33 that I've lost. I don't say ‘friends.' I don't say ‘acquaintances.' I say ‘brothers.

Haytasingh said that had he not limited himself to three sports, he would have competed until every drop of sweat, blood and tears had drained from his body. “I'm going to keep giving 110%,” he said, “because that's all the members of the military units here can do. I'm happy to be here. This is my last year in the military. … The Great Lakes is no more than 45 minutes away, so it's very special to me.”

Military support

For Marine Corps officer Danielle Pothoof, adaptive sports and her participation in the 2017 Department of Defense Military Games have contributed to her and her family's happiness.

Pothoof said she enlisted in the Navy because “it's the best thing to do,” even though her cousins teased her because most of her family members have served in the military and her sister is in the Air Force. He was hit by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Feb. 26, 2015, the day of his wedding. Injuries to his lower extremity required amputation.

His wife Courtney Williams was unaware of Pothoof's injury when she learned that the incident had occurred on their wedding day.

“At first she didn't know, and one day she said, ‘By the way,' and I said, ‘Why did you do that?' ‘ It's a little morbid, but it's a big day for him: ‘It's the day I blew up.' Yeah, it's not uncommon,” Williams said. Pothoof was nervous about having his leg removed, he added.

“It hurt all the time, he was stressed and just upset,” he said. “Imagine having a perpetual headache, that's the kind of pain he was in. We decided to cut his leg off together. I was afraid he wouldn't want to be with someone who only has one leg, but I didn't want him to live with that kind of pain.

Now,” she continues, “he climbs and rides bikes. He wants to run a marathon on a bike, and I tell him, ‘I have both my legs, and I don't want to run a marathon.'”

Recovery support

Pothoof said he had some dark days during his hospital stay.

“There were days when I would lay in bed and think, ‘I'm done, I'm giving up,'” Pothoofo said. “When I first got injured, I told my mother, ‘I've had enough of life. I feel like my life is over. It's put me through a lot,” Pothoofo said. “I had a lot of complications with the surgery, and my wife, who is my biggest supporter, said, ‘You have to do this. You have to get through this. You have to get through this because you have me and your kids. We need you as much as you need us. I'm rooting for you.”

Williams said that during the darkest days of Pothoof's recovery, she would send the boy on “errands” to get him out of the house, such as looking for Christmas presents or picking up seashells on the beach.

“We've gone from me making him do these things to him doing something every day on his own because he wants to,” Williams said. “He's overcome all those obstacles. He's doing so much better. That's huge.”

In high school, Pothoof played basketball, volleyball and softball, and ran sprints and hurdles in track and field. These days, he enjoys playing softball with his son, Parker, 5. “For him, everything is a competition. It's pretty fun,” she said. “He calls my leg a robot leg.”

For Pothoof, too, everything is a competition, Williams said, even sometimes for his attention. For example, he said he once grabbed Pothoof's handles and left him at a restaurant “because he was getting on my nerves.”

“I said, ‘OK, deal with it,'” he said. “It was funny. You can laugh or cry about it. I call her Peggy. We're so much more complete, it's been a blessing.”

Yin and Yang

According to Williams, the couple met through mutual friends and had an instant yin and yang connection. “I'm more of a stay-at-home mom, and she likes to get out, get dirty and get Parker involved in things,” he said. “She likes to get outside, and I'm more of a stay-at-home mom.”

Pothoof and Williams joke that Williams sometimes forgets that Pothoof is missing a leg.

“I ask him if he can turn off the lights and he says, ‘I'm in bed.' I say, ‘So what? I'm on the other side of the bed,'” Williams said. “Sometimes he doesn't have his prosthetic and he's propped up in a chair or on a bed, and I forget he doesn't have a leg. That's what we wanted. I don't feel like anything is missing. I feel like we're more complete; life is more complete now. I don't even think about it.”

“He says to me, ‘Honey, get up and do something. What's taking you so long?' I say, ‘I'm going to get back on my feet.' He doesn't even care, which makes me feel so much better,” Pothoof said.

Soldier games

Throughout the week, 265 wounded and injured veterans representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and teams from the British and Australian armed forces competed in biathlon, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, seated netball and wheelchair basketball.

Pothoof competes in cycling, rifle shooting, seated netball and swimming. She won a gold medal in her category in women's cycling and a bronze medal in seated netball.

Swimming is her favorite sport,” she said. “I'm really excited about swimming; I love all the other sports, but I've worked hard for swimming and my son is like a fish in water. He loves it. He watches it with a lot of enthusiasm,” she added. “He goes crazy when he sees everything in the pool. He starts wanting to be in the pool. It's going to be great.”

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