U.S. Navy Veteran Tony was diagnosed with MS in 2005, the same year he was expecting twin boys.
Tony had been a lieutenant when he was on his first operational deployment to Bahrain. While there, he played soccer and worked out, but noticed he was having a lot of weakness and fatigue. He thought it was due to the high temperatures, which often topped 110 degrees. And he wasn’t eager to go to the doctor to get checked out.
“When you’re a pilot or air crew, or anything involving flying, you don’t go to medical a lot because of fear of being grounded. Anything you have going on, they will sit you for a while to monitor it. So, there’s a lot of apprehension as far as going to medical and getting looked at for the fear of not being able to fly.”
He returned from deployment and was having some tingling in his left hand. He thought he’d thrown his back or neck out, since he’d been lifting weights.
His flight doctor ordered an X-ray, which was inconclusive. Knowing something was not quite right, and with the doctor suspecting MS, an MRI and full work-up was ordered. The tests showed lesions on Tony’s neck, as well as two more in his brain. He did, in fact, have MS.
Despite the diagnosis, Tony was able to stay in flying status under the guidance of NAMI (Navy Air Medical Science Group), which is in charge of all aviation-related medical for the Navy. He saw a neurologist on a yearly basis and was able to continue flying for the next 16 years.
Through word of mouth and networking in person and online, Tony was introduced to PVA by other Veterans. “PVA was instrumental in helping get my VA disability ratings worked out,” Tony says. “That’s a huge service,” he says, noting that transitioning from the military to civilian life can be very overwhelming. PVA answered his questions, and also pointed him in the right direction for the various paperwork and discussions he needed to have.
Having always been an athletic person, Tony eventually went to an adaptive sports camp and got hooked on hand cycling. “The handcycle gave me freedom I hadn’t had in a while,” he says. “I’m not able to use my legs but my arms and my upper body are perfectly able to keep up with the sport and it just got me hooked.”
A coach recommended he get in touch with the PVA Cycling Club and he has been an active member since. “Any time you can find a sport that we can participate in without being impacted by our disability … it’s such an outlet. From a physical perspective, that daily ability to go out and do things has been fantastic.” His involvement with PVA cycling led him to become a member of PVA’s Michigan chapter, and a participant in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
He says, “PVA has been instrumental in me getting back in shape, both physically and mentally, and also, being able to work with other Veterans that are in the same spot as me, with a passion for some type of sport. It’s just been a great camaraderie.”
He appreciates the information sharing that goes on at the Games, and notes how much of a boost it is for Veterans to once again call themselves athletes – or, in some cases, to become an athlete for the first time after their injury or diagnosis.
His twin boys are now teenagers, and Tony loves the fact that they can see their dad staying in shape and training. “Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I can’t do things,” he says. “They come home and see in the garage, on the trainer, going for 20-mile rides. I can’t express the return I get from it,” he says.
“One thing I love telling others is, ‘Don’t let the challenge — whatever it might be — or disability define who you are,” explains Tony. “Never look at things as if you can’t do them, or what you can’t do. Focus on the things you can do and try to excel.’ I know it’s hard a lot of times. Don’t worry about the other stuff. You have to just kind of redefine yourself.”