Adaptive shooting brought disabled Marine Corps veteran Calvin Smith out from the confines of his home and into the realization that he could still live a full, active life.
“Before I met all the guys at Paralyzed Veterans of America, I wasn’t going out too much; I was in much more than out,” Calvin says. “That was until I met these guys who showed me that life isn’t over after your injury, that you can go out with a group of guys who know where you are coming from.”
Calvin retired from the Marine Corps in 2010 after a decade of service, including two tours in Iraq in the infantry. During his first tour in 2003, Calvin and his team were in pursuit of a group of Iraqis who had stolen explosives when the Humvee they were driving hit a tank hole at 45 miles per hour, leaving Calvin with a herniated spine. Following his recovery, Calvin volunteered for another tour in Iraq, but several encounters with IEDs throughout the deployment aggravated his spinal injury and previous surgical work.
Calvin returned to the United States to undergo another surgery, but during his rehabilitation, he suffered a motorcycle accident that resulted in the amputation of his left leg. “I’ve been doing therapy and have a service dog now, and that’s been a big help,” Calvin says. “But it’s been a long process.”
The process may have seemed even longer, Calvin says, if it weren’t for the adaptive sports programs offered by Paralyzed Veterans of America. It was through the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton that Calvin learned of an air rifle competition hosted by Paralyzed Veterans, and since then, his life has never been the same.
“It’s great to have the connection to Paralyzed Veterans of America,” Calvin says. “I’m like the little brother, and they’re the big brother showing me that there are so many things out there that I can still do. All you have to do is adapt and overcome, and you can do anything.”
While the injury often makes shooting painful for Calvin, it was Jim Russell of the Cal-Diego chapter who offered him guidance on special equipment that could help him adapt. Calvin now uses a shotgun with a coil at the end as well as special shells that help lessen the impact on his back when he shoots.
Calvin has had a number of top finishes for adaptive shooting, the most recent being the overall air rifle and pistol champion at the fourth Paralyzed Veterans of America and Cal-Diego air rifle/pistol seminar and competition Jan. 27-28, 2014, in Point Loma, Calif.
As for the future, Calvin wants to continue practicing and potentially pursue other shootings sports like trapshooting. He also hopes to pursue a college degree. “The main goal is just to keep going and have a good spirit about things,” he says. “I’m hoping in the near future I can get back to working and doing something that I love.”
Calvin also hopes his story will inspire other veterans returning from the battlefield with injuries that make them question whether they can still live a full life. “The suicide rate is way too high for our vets, whether they have PTSD, pain problems or spinal cord injury,” he says. “I suggest they utilize the programs out there because there are a lot of organizations like Paralyzed Veterans of America to help out.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.