In a racing wheelchair customized for him, Col. Danny Dudek sets out on his daily ride. But no matter how far, how fast, how fiercely he rides, he can never escape that day in Iraq—July 19, 2007.
Dudek was in one of the two back hatches of a Stryker vehicle when it was hit by an improvised explosive device. The blast killed Cpl. Brandon Craig. Dudek suffered a spinal cord injury that left him with little mobility in his legs.
With his wife Megan by his side, Dudek began working on his recovery. Every morning Dudek climbs into his racing wheelchair and hits the road. Megan rides alongside him. Nerve pain from his injury still interferes, but adaptive sports have been a powerful antidote.
"I rarely have nerve pain on a ride like this," said Dudek. "A doctor can tell you you've been hurt a certain way and they can tell you this is how it's going to affect your life. But they're not going to be able to tell you how to live with it. It's the community that tells you how to live with it, people with like injuries."
That community is why Dudek is once again training for the Warrior Games. Established in 2010 and organized by the Department of Defense, the Warrior Games bring together wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans to compete in seven sports: archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball. Adaptive sports are played by those with physical, cognitive (such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury), or visual disabilities.
Dudek competes in wheelchair racing, hand cycling, and swimming—a sport that's already netted him seven gold medals from previous games.
"I'm very proud to be able to get out here and overcome the thoughts I initially had, thinking, 'I can't golf and I can't ride a bike, I can't do all these things anymore.' They were all just illusions. I can climb Mt. Rainier if I want to," he said.
“Once you get finally put back together, it can hit veterans like a ton of bricks—what are we going to do now? And at Amazon, we want to be one of those answers.”
Amazon is one of the sponsors of the Warrior Games, thanks in large part to the efforts of Tim Bomke, an Army veteran who is a manager on Amazon’s military hiring team. Bomke lost his right leg after an IED blast in 2005. Bomke's new mission is to remind wounded warriors of what's possible through his work at Amazon and events like the Warrior Games.
For Dudek it will always be about powering through life's headwinds, remembering to enjoy the ride and maybe even finish first.
"I'm thankful I'm alive. I want to be the guy to be in first place."
Amazon currently employs more than 10,000 veterans and military spouses, and plans to hire and train an additional 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2021. Learn more by visiting Amazon's military recruiting site