Editor's Note: More than 200 wounded servicemen and women descended on Colorado Springs in May to participate in the third annual Warrior Games. Each branch of the military sent a team of inspiring athletes to vie for gold and bragging rights. But every athlete also has an incredible story of perseverance. HLN's Robin Meade sat down with five of them.
Army Corporal Brian Miller
Brian Miller didn’t take the usual path to the military. After a career as a traffic signal technician, he enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard at the age of 40. He was the main gunner on a combat vehicle in Iraq in 2009 when his unit came under attack. An explosive shattered his left leg and after 14 surgeries, he was forced to amputate the leg above the knee. He’s still on active duty.
Air Force Tech Sergeant Israel Del Toro (DT)
Israel Del Toro had third degree burns over 80% of his body after an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2005. The fingers on both hands also had to be amputated and he has nerve damage in his foot. Del Toro says the recovery process was excruciating, but his wife and son gave him the motivation to stick with it. In 2010, he became the first one hundred percent combat-disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist. He says his dream is to retire on his own terms.
Marine Corporal Kionte Storey
Kionte Storey was the youngest member of our panel at 23. He lost his right leg in Afghanistan in 2010 after stepping on an IED. But that didn’t keep him from racking up the medals in track and swimming at the Warrior Games. He has a service dog named Koja that helps him deal with the emotional trauma from the war and he hopes to become a veterinarian one day.
Marine Sergeant Than Naing
Than Naing is originally from Burma, but has been living in the U.S. since 1997. He says he always had a dream to be a soldier and finally acted on it after September 11, despite objections from his family. It took him a few tries to pass the English proficiency test, but once he did, it wasn’t long before he was deployed to Iraq in 2005. When he returned to Iraq in 2006, he was shot in the shoulder by a sniper. Naing recovered from those injuries and was deployed a third time in 2010 to Afghanistan. While there, machine gun fire from an ambush left him with serious internal injuries. He’s come a long way since then and says he dedicates his recovery to the memory of his friend, Pfc. Shelby Feniello. He was killed in Iraq just days before Naing was injured the first time. He hopes to return to the infantry one day.
Navy Mineman 2** nd **** Class **** Linda Simpson**
Linda Simpson lives in Kitsap, Washington, with her husband and two teenage children. She was traveling home from Naval Reserve training on her motorcycle in September 2011 when she was hit by a car. Her left leg had to be amputated above the knee and she’s still undergoing extensive rehabilitation to regain full functionality. She has returned to her volunteer work as a tutor at the Naval Avenue Boys and Girls Club, but expects to medically retire from the Naval Reserve. Simpson’s husband also has a history of service, first in the Army and then the Army National Guard. After two tours of duty and two trips overseas as a private contractor, he now works as a sheriff’s deputy.