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Matthew White always had his eyes on joining the military. Civilian life didn’t inspire him; he desired a challenge and wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather who served in the Army during the Korean War. After successfully convincing his mother, he joined the Army after graduating high school in 2007. On May 8, 2010, while on his second deployment to Afghanistan with Bravo Co., 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division – Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Sergeant White stepped on an IED while on a dismounted combat patrol in the Arghandab River Valley, which blew up under his right foot. Sgt. White was immediately medevac to Kandahar Airfield and eventually ended up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. where his right leg was amputated below his knee.
His military career was effectively over, but his competitive drive built up from years of playing team sports and he felt that he was still strong and he needed a competitive outlet. Adaptive sports became that outlet. He tried running (loved it), scuba diving (loved it/ PADI Certified Rescue Diver), and rock climbing (challenging & enjoyable), but missed the military aspects that he was accustomed to. In 2014, Matthew was introduced to Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW) and reached out in hopes of being able to compete in a obstacle course race with them. Later that year, Matthew, with the assistance of their Masked Athlete Team conquered a Tough Mudder race in southern Virginia. Since then, Matthew has competed in several other OCRs with OEW and continues to compete in them to this day. In addition to the OCRs, Matthew has run six marathons. He says, “I like to do things that normal people say they can’t do,” and we’re apt to believe him since completing even one marathon is more than most people have done. Now, he’s itching to take on the Endeavor Team Challenge as the Adaptive Athlete on the OEW team.
We got him on the phone and asked him some questions about the challenge.
I’ve been looking for a harder challenge that the typical obstacle course races I’ve participated in. Those are great, but are pretty standard in what you can expect. I wanted more variety – something that could stoke that adventurous fire. OEW reached out to me because they figured I would be interested in an event like this and because they thought I had the fitness to finish the event. They were definitely right on the first part.
I really enjoy running and have run six marathons, so I’m no stranger to long distances. In fact, a month after this, I’m running the Chicago marathon. Up until a few months ago though I hadn’t run in over a year because I had a nagging and painful hip injury I was rehabbing. Now I’m getting back into running and lifting as well.
From a skill perspective, I’m excited to break out some skills I haven’t used since my time in the service. I’ll touch up on my orienteering skills, map reading, and knot tying, but I’m hopeful that those will come back to me quickly with muscle memory.
I was injured in 2010, now that it’s 2018 and I’m a little older, I have more aches and pains and dogs run my life, i’ve had to adapt my training a little. As we all know training for long distances can be challenging, especially trying to get the road miles in that is required is usually the most difficult part for me. For me, running 10-15 miles isn’t the hard part, the wear and tear and skin breakdown that occurs from running those miles is. In the weeks leading up to a event, I will take a lot of epsom salt and ice baths to help heal the skin on my residual limb and to help with the bone soreness that comes from training.
I’ve also learned over the years that doing any type cardio that helps elevate my HR is key, because there are some days where I’m just too sore or the integrity of the skin on my residual limb isn’t strong enough for me to run. With that, I have to adjust fire and jump into the pool at the gym and swim a few laps or I have to hop on a stationary bike and get my miles in that way.
Since my dogs and being an advocate for dogs is essential and really important to me and to what I stand for; simply taking my dogs for a walk can be the best training mentally and physically for me. Mentally, it helps me unwind from my day and escape from whatever thoughts I may be thinking at that time, and physically, it’s another alternate for me to get my HR up and to get some simple miles in.
I’m most excited for the orienteering portions. Overseas we had GPSs and hand held stuff so I haven’t really had to use terrain association when reading a map in a while. This brings me back to basic training, field exercises and military schools where you’re evaluated on your skills. I think I’ll be most adapt at terrain association. I’m also excited about the variety. I’ve run and done OCRs, but combing all of the different aspects into one event is something I haven’t done before.
I wouldn’t really say I’m nervous about anything. There’s always the chance of getting lost in the middle of the night particularly because land features disappear, but I think we’ll be alright.
Being able to work with OEW has given me that competitive edge that I was so desperately lacking. I’ve always been an active guy, so there was never a doubt in my mind that I would not be active again after my injury. I just needed some confidence and little bit of help, and that’s where OEW stepped up and gave me the support and motivation I needed.
Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to feel sorry and pity us, which at times can be detrimental to our recovery. OEW helps bridge the gap that exist between veterans and civilians, instead of looking at veterans because of their injuries, OEW strives to empower veterans like myself and honors our sacrifice by helping us get back on our feet (no pun intended) and compete once again. One of the most important aspects of OEW is their overwhelming support, on most race days, rain or shine, you’ll have have an Army of OEW supporters and MAT team members joining you as you conquer the course.
Their support doesn’t stop once you cross the finish line or complete a ruck march that ends at Arlington National Cemetery, their support continues for the days, weeks and months thereafter. With being so active in the animal rescue community and recently starting my own animal education program for students (https://furyanimaleducation.org/), I’ve had several OEW team members and supporters reach out to me directly to lend a helping hand and support me in whatever way they can. In the end, it’s all about being there to support and empower one another, and without a doubt, OEW has been there for me everytime.