Kate Callahan is a warrior. She’s been a wildly inspirational and powerful force throughout her life, even after the 2000 surgical complication from hydrocephalus that left her a paraplegic.
She loved softball. She loved backpacking through Yellowstone. She was a fierce competitor who hunted occasionally and loved being a part of a team.
Kate knew she wanted to join the military when she was in the 4th grade, as she proudly took a look at her Air Force officer father’s uniform. Because of her dad’s service the family moved around a lot. That made Kate the new kid a lot of times, and she didn’t necessarily enjoy school, but she did enjoy sports, especially softball. And she had a knack for it.
She joined the Air Force right out of high school and transferred to the Army, where she served in the Middle East as a combat medic and then a flight nurse for 18 years. Service and strength has always been a part of who Kate is.
But when she found herself in a wheelchair, she went through a lot of emotional difficulties coming to terms with her new situation. “I was totally bewildered,” remembers Kate. “I didn’t understand how this could happen to me; I thought my life was over.”
And then she met recreational therapist Jose Laguna who introduced her to the world of adaptive sports. With Laguna’s encouragement, Kate concentrated on the things she could do rather than what she couldn’t do. This focus allowed her to once again become a strong athlete and competitor in a variety of different events like track and field, that she had not previously been involved in. Says Kate, “I do more now than I did before my injury.”
In fact, just six months after she turned pro, Kate set a new American record throwing discus for the U.S. Paralympic Team at the IPC Athletics World Championships. Since then, she has competed and medaled in numerous athletic events, including the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
But when it came time to find a job, even an avid athlete like Kate needed some help. That’s when representatives from PVA’s Paving Access for Veterans Employment Program (PAVE) stepped in and helped her find civilian employment.
Kate had a B.A. in Sociology from the University of San Antonio, and a M.A. in Recreation Therapy from Texas State University – San Marcos, but she needed help finding a job. PAVE helped her with her resume and got her hired under a special program for people with disabilities, something she never would have known about were it not for the recruiting assistance.
“Whether you are looking for government work or something in the private sector, PAVE can help you with your resume,” she says. Kate’s recruiter helped her look good on paper and told her about job fairs, open positions, and programs she would never have known about otherwise.
Today Kate gives back to veterans by working at Brooke Army Medical Center as a recreational therapist.
She also served as Secretary of PVA’s Texas chapter, and encourages veterans to take advantage of PVA programs in order to enhance their civilian life. She says it’s fulfilling to help them realize what all is possible in the future.
Kate acknowledges the unique needs of women veterans, and is hoping to bring them together for fellowship and support. She encourages women veterans to reach out to each other. “You are part of the brotherhood, the womanhood, just like you were in the service,” she says. “You still have that camaraderie. You are not alone.”
PVA helped Kate Callahan find freedom and opportunities again after her injury, and she is paying forward that spirit to help other veterans with spinal cord injuries, disorders, or related diseases adjust to their diagnosis and lead fulfilling lives.
Through her service, Kate hopes to teach other paralyzed veterans that “life is waiting for you. It’s not going to come to you; you have to go get it.”