Marines on light duty for injuries have to change their physical training regimen to help recovery. Sometimes, that means not exercising at all so the body can heal.
Getting back into a good training routine can be both physically and mentally trying. For Marines recovering from the loss of a limb, this challenge becomes that much more difficult.
Master Sgt. William Gibson, the operations chief for the office of Legislative Affairs at Headquarters Marine Corps in Arlington, Va., said he needed to prepare for a new chapter in his life when he was told he needed to have his left leg amputated above the knee as the result of a sniper attack in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006. Knowing his options were limited, Gibson turned to his love of the water.
“Swimming is relaxing,” Gibson said. “It’s my way of escaping.”
Swimming as an amputee isn’t as simple as just jumping in the water, said Gibson. Most prostheses are not waterproof, and the few that can be in water have a tendency to float, creating extra drag on the swimmer. There are prostheses designed for swimming, but Gibson prefers to swim without one. To accomplish this, he holds his left leg out of the water and kicks exclusively with his right leg.
“It takes a little bit of timing,” said Gibson. “I’m still getting over that I’m not as fast.”
Even simple physical training requires retraining the body, said Sgt. Courtney Rauch, a martial arts instructor at the Martial Arts Center of Excellence, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
“Running on a prosthetic was like learning to walk all over again,” he said. “It took a lot of work to get here and it will continue to and I just got to stay
on top of it.”
Rauch lost part of his left leg after an improvised explosive device destroyed his Humvee in Afghanistan Aug. 3, 2008. The 23-year-old set aggressive goals for recovery to maintain his physical and mental strength, which he says helped him attain his brown belt with instructor tab in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.
“I’m absolutely motivated every time I run now,” said Rauch. “Knowing that I’m this much closer to being back to full strength is a blessing every time my foot hits the ground. A year and a half ago I never imagined I would come this far and this close to my goal.”
Maintaining leg strength is one of the focuses for amputee rehabilitation because it gives more control over leg prosthesis, said Jacqueline Moore, a physical therapist with Comprehensive Combat and Complex Casualty Care Division, Naval Medical Center San Diego, Calif. This training preferably starts before the surgery, so the amputee has more time to prepare for prosthesis.
Core strengthening also plays a big part in physical fitness for amputees, said Moore. This helps mentally by getting an amputee out of the bed and the hospital, as well as improving balance.
Rauch has managed to maintain a steady workout regimen of martial arts training to build his core strength. He said he likes to keep doing everything that other Marines do without limitations as a way of motivating himself.
“I have accepted that everything is always going to be just a bit harder for me than everyone else,” said Rauch. “But that keeps me motivated to work harder. I refuse to accept failure or pity.”
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