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NEWS | Dec. 12, 2023

Return to duty Soldier making it his mission to help other Soldiers.

By MaryTherese Griffin ARCP

 He was a dynamo at the 2015 Warrior Games at Marine Base Quantico and the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, winning medals for Team Army and Team U.S., respectively, all while conquering a disease that changed his life. 2nd Lt Zedrik Pitts takes us back to where his military career and life took a sharp turn. “I was due to mobilize for Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013. During that process, I got sick, and the docs informed me I had Graves disease. I learned it’s an autoimmune disease that, if untreated, can kill you.”

He was pulled off the mobilization and sent to the then Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bliss, Texas. “I met Marc Cattapan back then, and he introduced me to cycling, which was great for my condition.” He spoke about the thyroid storm that was happening as part of his condition. “I thought cycling was silly for an exercise, but I was wrong. Before my diagnosis, I was heavy into weightlifting and powerlifting.” He was all muscles and 215 pounds in his lifting days. He dropped down to 160 pounds when his disease was full-blown.

“The Graves disease attacked my cardiovascular system, so I could barely run or go up a flight of steps without being winded. Going from power sports to endurance sports was a hard hit for me,” said the gold medalist in cycling, who explained what he had to do to succeed.
“To get those medals, I had to push past what the Army called medical limitations. On paper, sprinting is not good for Graves disease. The medical team they had working with Team Army helped me through diet and communicating with Marc to make sure the sports I chose wouldn’t hurt me or conflict with my medical team’s goals for me.”

Pitts was enlisted during his competition days in the Army. He says because of Warrior Games and adaptive sports, he could return to duty. Through the Green to Gold Program, he is now a 2nd Lieutenant.
“Right now, I work in HR for the Army. There is a retention and recruiting issue. If you take away adaptive sports, you will take away that spirit of being patriotic with a country with an aftercare or during-care program for Soldiers in general. I wouldn’t be fit for duty if not for adaptive sports,” said Pitts, describing his journey to this HR position.

“While at the Ft Cason SRU, I was exposed to many high-ranking individuals who were medically retiring. I thought if there were a way to keep these officers in, it would help the mission. So, I asked many questions and decided I would become fit for duty so I could pour into the enlisted Soldiers the resources they needed to accomplish the mission and become an advocate for adaptive sports.”

Pitts lauds the Army Recovery Care Program for what it did for him and what he knows it will do for future Soldiers in need. “Potential new Soldiers want to know if they will be taken care of should they get injured. This program must stay intact for recruitment, retention, recovery, and overcoming.”

While in his new role, Pitts is meshing the military and civilian worlds to work hand in hand for Soldiers to ensure they continue to get support through adaptive sports. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without adaptive sports. We must integrate the civilian and military communities where adaptive sports are concerned. When many Soldiers leave the SRU and return to civilian life, they don’t even have the equipment to continue in adaptive sports,” says Pitts, who considers himself an advocate now in this arena.

“If you put recruits in, and they serve, and they get hurt, and the only thing you can do is put them out, that’s a waste of money in the long run. The fact that the Army has a program like this to help you heal and at least try to get back in the fight makes sense… both common and money.”