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Runners Get Engaged at DoD Warrior Games, Dedicate Medal to Niece

WEST POINT, N.Y., June 19, 2016 — Competing in her first Department of Defense Warrior Games individual event, the women’s 100-meter, medically separated Marine Corps Cpl. Rose Jessica Hammack earned a gold medal in her category.

“I’m happy, and I don’t care if I get a medal in anything else,” she said. “It was so awesome.”

Her boyfriend of two years, medically retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Johnson, was competing in his sixth DoD Warrior Games and proposed to her after deciding to “seize the day” because of a special someone in his life.


Johnson’s infant niece, Layla Grace Johnson, died recently. He was able to make it home in time to spend a few days with her. He said as he spent time with her, he thought, “This little baby girl isn’t going to experience anything in life.”

“And for me, it was the ‘seize the day’ moment,” he said. “I want to enjoy life with Jessica and not let this opportunity pass me by. Before I even flew back out here, I ran to the jewelers and bought the ring.”

Johnson dedicated the first medal he earned in five years of competing to his niece. He said his entire team has been supportive.

“Every single individual on my team has taken the time to stop by to express their feelings and their well wishes for me and my family, and it means so much,” he said.


Johnson said hope and love are important to him and Hammack, and he sees that at the DoD Warrior Games, so he thought it would be the perfect place to propose to her. After they had run part of their races, Hammack said she had friends tell her, “They’re calling for you.”

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m about to miss my race,’ so I threw my water bottle at somebody and then when I turned, they were like, ‘You’ve got to check in at the 40 yard line.’ I don’t even know where the 40 yard line is. I was just freaking out,” she said. “I walked out there, and I saw him. I said, ‘They’re calling my name,’ and he said, ‘Come here.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.” I saw him with the ring in his hand, and I just freaked out even more. I was really excited.”

Her teammates joked with her about whether she should run or throw discus or shot put with her ring on. She earned silver medals in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter races and bronze medals in the 200-meter race, the shot put and the discus in her disability category. Johnson earned a gold medal in the 1,500-meter, a silver medal in the 800-meter and a bronze in the 200-meter.

Johnson said it was great to finally earn a medal. “It felt awesome to finally get a medal after all these years of training and competing and giving it my all,” he said.

How They Met

Hammack said she was running a Student Veterans of America group at her college when some veterans organizations came to visit, and one of the visitors asked her if she’d be interested in rowing. Johnson is team captain of a local rowing team in Oklahoma designed to get veterans back on the water.

“We’ve partnered with US Rowing, and they’ve gotten a [Veterans Affairs] grant to open it up to active-duty personnel as well as veterans, helping us get equipment, and now we’re slowly building up a team,” Johnson said. “Through my love for sports and her curiosity, that’s how we met.”

Overcoming Injuries

Hammack separated from the Marine Corps after two years due to a knee injury and car accident. She said she enjoys the DoD Warrior Games because it gives her a sense of camaraderie that she had when she was on active duty.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed the Marine Corps until I went to the trials,” she said. “This is my life. I was so excited to be surrounded by my brothers and sisters and just feeling that family again.”

In 2009, Johnson was diagnosed with a brain tumor after 13 years of service. Doctors told him he’d never walk again.

“I spent several months learning how to walk again -- eat, feed myself; all of that kind of stuff,” he said. “I got 90 days of consecutive radiation treatment and a cycle of chemotherapy. The surgeries took a lot out of me. The doc said he spent 18 hours in the [operating room] picking the tumor out of my brain, and he said I would never regain the use of my leg below the knee. It’s not very functional, but I can balance on it.”

He said he had never been a runner before, but that since he started competing at the 2010 Warrior Games, he’s improved.

“I’ve improved by leaps and bounds from that first 1,500,” he said.” It was like 8:15, and now I’m running right around five minutes. Now I want to break five minutes.”

About 250 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and United Kingdom armed forces are competing in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball at the Warrior Games, which run through June 21 at the U.S. Military Academy here.
Distribution channels: Military