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NEWS | June 6, 2024

Catch me if you can!

By MaryTherese Griffin Army Recovery Care Program

If you feel the need for speed, you might want to check out Retired Staff Sgt Gene Calantoc when he competes in the 2024 Department of Defense Warrior Games June 21-30th at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex I Orlando. “I like rugby as a team sport- I’m very fast in the wheelchair,” says Calantoc, who proudly wears his Team Army Jersey and shares his road to the Warrior Games.

Calantoc is missing his left leg because of a motorcycle accident in March of 2020.” I tell people today, never ride alone. You could be doing the right thing, minding your business. Something happens to you. If you ride with others, you can have immediate help. It’s a blessing,” said the Horizontal Construction Engineer who rode with six friends when his accident happened. All his friends were able to help him survive.

“Initially, I lost my leg below the knee, but I had several surgeries due to infection, and they had to go back in and take more. I am now an above-the-knee amputee,” said the married father of three.

“I woke up at the hospital missing a leg. I am thankful I am alive for sure, but now I have this new disability, and I had to figure things out. I never heard of adaptive sports until I got to the Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) at Joint Base San Antonio.”

He knew he had his work cut out for him. “It was weird at first. I played many sports, like soccer, basketball, volleyball, you name it, while I had both legs. I initially thought, how will I do this with just one leg?”
Wounded, ill, or injured Soldiers have many avenues to recover and overcome at Soldier Recovery Units, and Calantoc gravitated to adaptive sports.

“I have many goals. My first goal was to make Team Army and compete at the Warrior Games. I’m doing that! Next, I want to make Team US and go on to Invictus. Then, I want to go to the Paralympics for archery and powerlifting.”

Calantoc has some power behind his build, not only in a wheelchair or a cycle but also on the weight-lifting bench. “I weigh about 130 and push 259. My big goal is to double my weight, and I am almost there.”

He says he trains hard five times a week.” I work with a powerlifting coach and train in archery, rugby cycling, wheelchair basketball, and rowing, which are spread throughout the week.”

He also says he doesn’t wear his leg when he rows. “ It sucks,” he says, laughing, “ because once I start rowing, all that bending in my leg, it’s a lot of pressure on my right leg, but I row better this way.”

His discipline and positive outlook keep him pumped yet grounded. “I look at what I did in my last competition, and my goal is to beat myself from the last time. I have to do better today than I did yesterday.”

The other part that keeps him pumped is being at the Warrior Games with the most incredible people. “It’s great knowing I am part of Team Army, and I will do my best, and my family will cheer me on- I’m so ready!”

He’s ready to help in any way with like-minded athletes who are going through some mental or physical change. “I’m excited to bond with my brothers and sisters. We all know that having an injury or illness is not the end of your life. There are ways to get through, and competing together in adaptive sports is just one of many outlets to do that."

Maneuvering through life and in sports has some speed for Calantoc, which he says comes naturally. “I go fast now, missing a leg; you gotta tell me to slow down. It's challenging, but I accept the challenge, and what can I say? I go fast. When I see guys that can play better than me, I accept the challenge, and that's the only way for me to get better.”

He is ready to show off his speed in competition at Warrior Games and let us in on a secret. “The folks from the Air Force don’t know I'm playing wheelchair basketball and rugby, and I've played with them in San Antonio for fun. They don’t know what's coming- I say be ready – you gotta catch me!”