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Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge Reflects on the W100K

June 4, 2013 by David Olson

Since our founding in 2010, the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge team has participated in many inspirational events involving wounded heroes, but none as inspirational as the Bush Center Warrior 100K. 

It was a tremendous privilege and honor for members of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge to participate in the 3rd Annual Bush 100K mountain bike ride.  We are very thankful for the Bush Institute and the many volunteers, military heroes and organizations that have come together to share in fellowship and our collective purpose of demonstrating to other Combat Wounded and Injured veterans that despite their injuries they, too, can overcome seemingly insurmountable personal challenges. 

During the W100K, we were honored and proud to present to President and Mrs. Bush our Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge - Kilimanjaro Expedition Team 2013 FlagCarrying this Expedition Flag throughout our challenging expedition to the “roof of Africa” was done so with all the courage, determination, and accomplishment representative of all of our American Combat Wounded and Injured, fallen comrades, and their families who have bravely heeded our nation’s call for selfless sacrifice in the service of our country.  Our objective: to find medical solutions to further improve the science impacting the advancement of prosthetics, Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury treatments. 

Mr. President, we are sincerely thankful for your continued inspirational leadership.  Please know that you and Mrs. Bush continue to serve as a source of hope and strength for all of our American Combat Wounded and Injured Veterans, encouraging them to attain their “personal summit” despite whatever obstacle or challenge lie before them.

Vulneror non Vincor – Wounded not Conquered

Throughout history, teams have been formed and shaped to achieve common goals: the Three Musketeers, Barney and Fife, and of course, the Avengers. It is well known that greater success comes from people joining together for a common cause.

There exists an expanding team forming in Florida that has set upon the goal of providing the best quality care for our wounded veterans. But unlike most superhero squads, this is no team of misfits. The leaders of this elite group include Combat Wounded Veterans themselves.  The Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge was Founded by Mrs. Carol Martin and CAPT David Olson, U.S. Navy (Ret) and has partnered with St. Petersburg College’s J.E. Hanger College of Orthotics and Prosthetics, directed by Arlene Gillis, CP, LPO, M.Ed. Over the past months they have assembled practitioners, doctors, and therapists from the James A. Haley VA, engineers and designers of some of the most advanced orthotics and prosthetics as well as O&P college graduates.

To achieve the ultimate goal of providing the best quality care, they have established three goals; to conduct research, challenge, and inspire Combat Wounded and Injured veterans. How do they plan to achieve this? Through expeditions around the globe such as a rigorous climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Through these expeditions, the veterans not only are challenged physically, but mentally as well.  The participants learn that they are still able to meet goals, push themselves, and be active, despite whatever injuries they have sustained during combat.  Most importantly, they learn that they are not alone. Their motto, “Vulneror Non-Vincor” means “Wounded, Not Conquered”.

Before the veterans set out on these challenges, they need to be prepared. That is why this select group provides and trains with the latest orthotic and prosthetic technology available.  Along with their prosthetic device comes physical therapy, occupational therapy, vocational rehab and workout regimens. By the time these veterans depart for their research expeditions, they are extremely fit and prepared to meet the challenge.

But why just help the few, when you can also help the many?  As exciting and inspiring as it is to see these veterans receive this personal help and achieve their goals, it is impossible to touch every wounded veteran and physically challenged person. That is why this team has put in place ways to reach the masses. On each expedition, a team of researchers accompanies the veterans and collects data that will aid in future orthotic and prosthetic development. The data that is able to be collected in these strenuous environments is invaluable to the future development of O&P.

Along with research, this team provides inspiration. Getting the word out of the wounded veterans accomplishing their goals and reaching new heights to other wounded soldiers and physically challenged persons will help achieve this goal. Many of the vets also visit wounded veterans at other area clinics and hospitals to show them what is possible with hard work and dedication.

Combat Wounded & Injured climb Kilimanjaro

In February 2013, the team set out on one of their furthest expeditions to date. With a group of six wounded and amputee veterans, three observers and support members, the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge team put Africa in their sights. Their goal was to reach the 19,341ft summit of Mt Kilimanjaro! The trip was not easy, facing blizzards, sickness, and other threats along the way, but they did not let that stop them. The expedition was an outstanding success.  Everyone returned home safely, countless study data points were collected and enough pictures and videos were taken to spread the word around the world of their success.

The case study data that was collected has already been helpful in realizing residual limb changes and is soon to be published. The stated objective of the case study was to better understand what factors influence residual limb volume fluctuations.  By understanding limb volume fluctuations, it is hoped to be able to dramatically improve the quality of life and potentially expand the prospects for amputee service members who seek to return to full military active duty with expanded vocational options.  This includes potential for return to combat at a high altitude terrain, such as the mountainous regions of Afghanistan at 12,000 ft.

This objective was met by evaluating volume changes of the amputee’s entire body and then of just their residual limb. This was measured using bioimpedance spectroscopy. The goal is to be able to better anticipate what kind of adjustments will be needed inside the prosthetic socket during high activity and volume change. Being able to anticipate amounts of volume fluctuation during periods of activity will decrease disadvantages such as: inability to maintain suspension, lack of total contact creating increased pressure and friction, capillary breakage and hematoma formation, excessive movement with the socket creating increased shear forces, serous fluid drainage, and thickening of the skin. With this information, new prosthetic socket designs can be created. Improved designs would assist in the lives of not only highly active military amputees, but every amputee around the world.  Saint Petersburg College, in consortium with Florida State University, is already hard at work developing these new socket technologies.

The Mount Kilimanjaro case study was presented along with pictures and videos at the Explorers Club Annual Awards Dinner and national convention in New York City in March of this year. Members of the team received numerous congratulations from both local and national participants.

There is a growing audience following of the Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge Page on Facebook every week (Like us!). Most importantly, the veterans that participated in the Kilimanjaro research expedition returned with a renewed sense of accomplishment, pride and camaraderie. One of the participating veterans, SFC Billy Costello, was also invited to join former President George W. Bush on his annual Warrior 100K Mountain Bike ride.

Through this climb, not only did Combat Wounded and Injured veterans conquer 19,341ft in 6 days, the team challenged and inspired many other veterans to meet their personal goals, collected useful data that could change the world of prosthetics, and opened to world’s eye to the achievement and future of this team.

Upcoming Challenges

Capitalizing on the momentum gained from the Mt Kilimanjaro research expedition, the Combat Wounded and Injured team has planned three new research expeditions to take place throughout the summer. During each trip the three team goals will be met; to conduct research, challenge and inspire. Let’s wish them all the best of luck!

Grand Canyon Climb
June 16- July 1

This expedition will be a backpacking trek through the beautiful and challenging Grand Canyon. The team will spend their days traversing rocks, hills and steep climbs. A tough feat on its own, the amputees participating have an even harder challenge in front of them. Learn more

Alaskan Glacier Climb
July 5-13

During this expedition, the team will traverse along a glacier of snow and ice for six days. There will be four amputee and Traumatic Brain Injury wounded veterans, two graduate students and support members. The changes in altitude and temperature will surely play a role in how well the veterans can perform. Learn more

SCUBA Diving in the Keys
July 26- August 4

Scuba diving in the Florida Keys is every outdoor adventurer’s dream. These wounded veterans will soon have that opportunity. The Combat Wounded and Injured amputee team will enjoy the waters, scenes and beautiful wildlife of this paradise, while collecting data for future prosthetic use. Learn more

David Olson is Founder and Executive Director of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge.

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