Wounded warrior takes aim at recovery
By Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings, 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 11, 2013
BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- You can't tell Axel Gaud-Torres is a wounded warrior when he's smoothly polishing his archery skill on the range. He draws, steadies his breathing, and looses arrows with patience and steadfast concentration. Then you see the cane and notice a limp as he sets off to inspect his targets and retrieve his spent arrows -- a subtle reminder of a fateful day in Iraq in 2005.
Tech. Sgt. Gaud-Torres deployed with the Air Force but then was re-assigned to an Army unit to provide force protection in a logistics support area. The Puerto Rican native was manning a checkpoint when a car bomb detonated. The force of the blast threw him like a ragdoll, but he survived with two fractured vertebrae, a bruised sternum, and severe nerve damage to the right side of his body.
The soft-spoken OIF veteran still suffers pain from his injuries and battles post-traumatic stress disorder. But that doesn't stop him from retrieving his arrows and steadily firing another volley down the archery range. The geospatial intelligence analyst is preparing for the Warrior Games, a joint competition for wounded, ill, and injured service members, May 11-17 in Colorado Springs Colo.
"In the military, you always want to push yourself to the limit. Even when you're hurt, you don't want to admit it because you need to perform not only for yourself but the service too," said Gaud-Torres. "As a wounded warrior you feel alone at times, you can't identify with others. Seeing all the other Airmen at the Warrior Games I feel part of something special."
For years Axel emotionally struggled with the effects of his injuries. Then he attended resiliency training, which offers strength-based, positive psychological tools to help Airmen grow and thrive in the face of challenges and bounce back from adversity.
"I've always prided myself in being an active part of the Air Force. A fire has always burned within me to be an American Airman," Axel said. "After I was injured, I started doubting myself. I wasn't operating at the same level as before. I saw myself as a hindrance."
His quest to regain his self-confidence led him to the Air Force Wounded Warrior program where he was informed of the Warrior Games. The Warrior Games serve as an introduction to paralympic sports for injured service members by inspiring recovery, physical fitness and promoting new opportunities for growth and achievement.
"The Warrior Games have extinguished my sense of not belonging," said the father of three. It has motivated me so much that I see my role differently now. I know I cannot perform the duties I used to, but I know I can make a difference."
Encouraged by his wife Alexandra, Gaud-Torres will be participating in three events for this year's Warrior Games.
Aside from archery, he will participate in sitting volleyball and rifle shooting. Training began in January, and Gaud-Torres has a coach for each discipline.
"Archery has brought me the most satisfaction," Gaud-Torres said. "It's a beautiful art form, and it has brought peace to my mind. When you're suffering from PTSD, there is always clutter going around in your head. But when I draw back my bow, everything gets quiet, and the clutter melts away. It's just me and the target, perfect peace and harmony."