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NEWS | June 6, 2024

Team Army Ultimate Champion: “I had let go of the crutches in life, and the word can’t.”

By MaryTherese Griffin Army Recovery Care Program

“I didn’t think there was too much wrong. I low-crawled away from my motorcycle because I saw the bike smoking, and then I realized I couldn’t feel my legs.” Retired Army Sgt. Justin Mathers recalls his road to this year's Department of Defense Warrior Games, which started at the Fort Liberty Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) after a bad motorcycle accident. “I launched off and hit a tree.”

The Cavalry Scout was home on convalescent leave when the accident happened. He woke up two weeks later, hearing his wife Emily telling him they had to do surgery on his hip and back and that he had internal bleeding. ”I have 27 screws, three plates in a hip, and discs in my back that are fused. I woke up and had a whole bunch of metal in me.”

He learned about adaptive sports at the FT Liberty SRU. “I was introduced to archery, and I was stoked. I went to Army Trials in 2019 and got my tail whooped. Clearly, I was doing something wrong,” said Mathers, who shared that he retreated, gained up to 265 pounds, and got depressed.

“Then I saw my buddies I recovered with at the SRU going on to Warrior Games and Invictus, people like Maj. Casey Turner, now cadre with the Army Recovery Care Program. She and so many others I watched do great things, and it made me feel like I got left behind, but it lit a fire under me.”

His wife Emily says that the fire worked. “I am so extremely proud of him. He’s come so far in the past six years!”
Mathers stayed in contact with Turner, and they had a lot of conversations. “Back when I was walking with a cane and crutches, and you know. she is a physical therapist; she had a heart-to-heart with me. She said you walk around with that stuff but don’t need it. It’s a crutch. You are not allowing yourself to recover fully. I knew I never wanted to stay like this, and I wanted to do it right, so we moved forward, and I started taking my life back.”

He lost weight to prepare for a return attempt for Team Army to go to the 2022 Warrior Games. “I did it. I got selected to be on Team Army, and sure enough, I went to the games in 2022 and got six or seven medals: two golds in cycling, gold in archery, and some silvers and bronzes in other sports. After the Warrior Games, I was like, what's next?”

Determined to conquer the sports world with his physical limitations, Mathers had an epiphany. “I’m one of the fastest recumbent guys out there—so what do I do? Unfortunately, recumbent cycling is not allowed at the Paralympics, so I was like, I guess I need to learn how to ride a bike! I got with Cy Wilson and Greg Miller (Team Army Coaches) and learned to ride a bike within a year. By August 2023, I was a USA para-cycling C3 gravel, road, and time trial national champion.”

Now, he is competing as the Team Army representative for the title of Ultimate Champion at the 2024 Warrior Games. “Who would’ve thought I’d go from that a few years ago to this," he said.

Mathers knows one of his best decisions was to recover and overcome in the Army Recovery Care Program. “I am so glad I went to the SRU. It was more about recovery and my family. There was someone to help with help with appointments, therapy, and adaptive reconditioning events that included adaptive sports. I did adaptive sports to help get me off my tail to do stuff. I never in a million years thought it would get me to where I am today.”
He has paralympic dreams and hopes to make Team US for Invictus.

“When life changes, and you are no longer a Soldier, these adaptive sports make you feel relevant again. We are part of something bigger than ourselves and still make a difference.”