Kate Callahan Hero Story

Paralyzed Veteran Kate Callahan throws the javelinParalyzed Veterans of America member Kate Callahan dreams of competing in the Paralympics. The London Games, which will be held August and September 2012, would serve as the pinnacle of Callahan’s budding career as an elite athlete. Her path to success is remarkable, especially considering that she began to compete in track and field events just five years ago.

“I wanted to join (the military) since I was in the fourth grade,” Kate said, remembering finding her Air Force officer father’s uniform and making up her mind that was the career for her. She enlisted in the Air Force in 1983, where she first trained pilots, and then served in an aerovac unit. After attending nursing school, Kate continued her 18 years of service in the Army as a combat medic and flight nurse.

In 2000, Kate became paralyzed during surgery to reduce fluid on her brain when tendons in her back separated her spine, paralyzing her from the waist down.

“I was totally bewildered. I didn’t understand how this could happen to me,” she said. “I thought my life was over.”

Because of the severity of her injury and resulting infections, Kate completed most of her rehab at home. Seven years later VA recreational therapist Jose Laguna helped Kate restart her life, introducing her to the world of adaptive sports.

Kate had been an avid athlete before her injury, playing softball and backpacking through Yellowstone Park every year. She thought that lifestyle was lost after her injury. With Laguna’s guidance, Kate became interested in track and field events, and attended the 28th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), where she medaled in several sports.

“It was wonderful to be on a team again,” she recalled. She and her fellow athletes formed a camaraderie—one that had been missing from her life since she left the military.

However, the NVWG was just the beginning of her sports career. “They told me, ‘Well, you’re kind of good at this.’ ”

Kate began to train with a professional coach and went to the Endeavour Games and the American Nationals. Within six months of turning pro, Kate was throwing for the U.S. Paralympic Team at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand. She finished fifth in discus, throwing a 26.5-meter toss that set a new American record.

Five years after that life-changing Wheelchair Games experience, Kate will miss the Games for this first time since: She has a prior commitment; trials for the London Paralympics are being held at the same time.

Competing as part of the Paralympic team has once again given Kate the chance to represent her country on a worldwide stage. It also gives her a chance to show her five-year-old son, Joshua, that anything is possible. “I never thought this would happen to me, especially in a wheelchair,” she said.

When she isn’t training or traveling to competitions, Kate serves as Paralyzed Veterans’ Texas Chapter secretary. “I love being able to provide help to the members,” she said. “[It’s fulfilling] to help them restart their lives and show them that all of this stuff is possible.”

She is also completing her master’s degree in recreational therapy at Texas State University so she can give others the jumpstart that Laguna gave to her. Kate hopes to teach other paralyzed veterans that “life is waiting for you. It’s not going to come to you; you have to go get it. There’s not a need to struggle.”

Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans' adaptive sports programs

Kaitlin Inamasu is a George Washington University student and Communications intern at Paralyzed Veterans.

 

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    Kate Callahan Hero Story