COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – From the moment a new recruit first puts on the uniform or she takes it off for the last time, he or she is taught to leave behind the possibility of failure and the temptation of quitting. That crucial lesson sticks with most veterans long after their time in service. This is especially true for Army veteran Randall “Blake” McMinn who, nearly seven years after his medical retirement, continues to live with limitations imposed upon him by wounds of war. Despite an amputation of his right leg below the knee, a series of painful reconstructive surgeries on his left foot, and constant neck and back pain, McMinn is representing the Army in the Warrior Games for a third consecutive year. From his traumatic injury in Iraq to his recovery and participation in the games, McMinn never gave up and has no plans to slow down now.
The Linden, Texas native’s military career was cut short when an improvised explosive device blast in Iraq crippled the vehicle he was driving and nearly killed him. Immediately after the blast, McMinn put out a fire on the right side of his body and lifted himself out of the vehicle and onto the ground. It was when he tried to move his right leg he saw just how bad a shape he was in. After that, he says, the memories run together.
“I remember them giving me morphine and one of the guys giving me a can of Copenhagen saying I’d need it more than he did,” said McMinn. “Next thing, I woke up in a hospital bed with the amputation.”
McMinn was then returned the U.S. where he underwent therapy and reconstructive surgery at the Center for the Intrepid in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. McMinn says he found himself in a dark place at first. When he left Iraq in December of 2007, he weighed 185 pounds. He weighed roughly 120 a mere two months later.
“It was bad,” said McMinn. “But I saw guys with double amputations, and guys missing arms and eyes. They were getting out and staying active. It really inspired me.”
By November of 2008, McMinn was medically retired and by 2009 had moved to Las Vegas, Nev., where he first encountered the adaptive sport of wheelchair basketball. With the inspiration of fellow wounded warriors fresh in his mind, he started playing for a team called the Silver Bandits and became hooked, he said. He later played for the University of Texas at Arlington and practiced with the Dallas Mavericks. Military veterans on the Mavericks brought the Warrior Games to his attention, and he’s been representing the Army ever since.
McMinn credits a large amount of his recovery to the Warrior Games and adaptive sports in particular.
“Attending the Warrior Games in past years has given me an appreciation for being active despite my injuries and has been therapeutic by helping me to connect with those who share similar experience,” he said.
This year, McMinn will be competing in the cycling, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball events. He is also looking forward to having his wife and family attend the games to support him.
More than five years after his injury, McMinn continues to persevere despite pain and injury, proving the values that served him in the Army serve him still.