By Shannon Collins
Special to the Phoenix
The daughter of a Checotah man knows how an explosion, crash, gunshot, sickness or emotional trauma can push a military service member to a place of unfamiliarity — the sidelines. And through the healing process, Paralympic sport gives many survivors the chance to prove anyone can overcome disability.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Chanda Gaeth, daughter of Paul Gaeth of Checotah, competed for the Army team during the 2013 Warrior Games last month at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Throughout the seven-day event, wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard, as well as some from Special Operations Command and a team from the British military, competed in track and field, shooting, swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball makeup the events.
Gaeth won eight medals in track and field and swimming. Her impressive haul included gold medals in Women’s 50 Meter Freestyle (Spinal Cord Injury) and Women’s 50 Meter Backstroke (Spinal Cord Injury); silver medals in Women’s 100 Meter Freestyle (Spinal Cord Injury), Women’s 100 Meters (Wheelchair), Women’s 200 Meters (Wheelchair) and Women’s 1,500 Meters (Wheelchair); and bronze medals in Women’s Shot Put (Wheelchair/Other Combined) and Women’s Discus (Wheelchair/Other Combined).
Last year, Gaeth brought home medals in all of her events. She trained three times a week before this year’s competition.
She said being a part of the Army Warrior Games team is like being with family.
“Coming from a long line of military family members, competing with Team Army is my way to stay connected,” Gaeth said in a media release. “I want to make the Army, my country and my family proud of me.”
Gaeth’s military journey began when she signed up for the Wisconsin National Guard at 17. During her military career, she served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as well as in missions in Somalia and the Republic of South Korea.
She was medically discharged from the Army in 2006 for having a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury and for a having cognitive disorder. Gaeth, who must use a wheelchair, said training for the Warrior Games improved her strength, cognitive abilities and her speed and range of motion.
“The Warrior Games keep me involved and active,” Gaeth said in the release. “The sports have made me stronger and better able to handle my disability. Plus, I’ve made lifelong friends.”
Gaeth has two sons; one of them serves in the Army.