WEST POINT, New York, June 20, 2016 — Wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans continue to break their personal records and continue to show fans and friends amazing feats and June 17 was no different, as three archers took the gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games here at the U.S. Military Academy during the first-ever visual impairment category.
Air Force Associate Head Coach Aaron Moffett said officials created the new category to increase the number of people with visual impairments and provide more opportunities for people with any disability at the DoD Warrior Games.
Each athlete is blindfolded to equalize the playing field and has a stand next to them with a little notch or bolt. “They can hook their bow to that and place the notch hopefully on the same spot on their hand each time on the back of their hand and then that kind of tells them how they line up to the target, and then they’re able to shoot based off of that,” he said.
The athletes will also have a spotter or side coach who will tell them where they hit the target and what color. Different colors are for different points.
Archery competitor Air Force 1st Lt. Sarah Frankosky injured her eyes in a skydiving accident and has double vision as a result. She said she was excited to have teammate Master Sgt. Zarah Hartsock’s help.
“She’s very relaxed and being with someone who’s so calm, I knew I wouldn’t get stressed,” Frankosky said of Hartsock. “She’s got amazing eyes. She’s an amazing archer. When I asked her [to help], she said yes, and I was so thrilled. We’d never practiced together before, and we did pretty dang good.”
Frankosky earned the silver medal in the category. She said at the trials that she was lucky if she could get an arrow to hit her own target, so she was thrilled at her results.
Medically retired Navy veteran Brittany Jordan asked her sister, Tiffany, to be her side coach. “You have to trust the person behind you and that was my sister, who I’m grateful to have,” Jordan said. “You have to believe they’re going to put you in the right spot, and you have to breathe and relax. If you tense up, you’re not going to make it. I felt very confident out there. I didn’t win but it was my first year, and I did my best. I’m very happy with the outcome. I’m going to practice this year, and I’m going for the gold next year.”
Jordan is blind in her right eye and has 40 percent vision in her left eye due to her brain swelling a few years ago. She earned bronze in the visual impairment archery category. Her sister said she was proud to be her side coach.
“It was amazing; I had to keep her calm. We’re sisters so we fight as much as we can just because that’s what we do, so for us to be able to sit there and be calm for as long as we had to was amazing,” she said. “I was so proud of her. She didn’t lose her cool, and I was just happy to see her finish.”
Jordan asked her sister to go up and receive her medal with her. “I was honored,” Tiffany said.
Medically retired Air Force Master Sgt. Reese Hines asked his girlfriend and teammate, medically retired Master Sgt. Kyle Burnett to be his side coach.
Hines lost his right eye, had damage to his left eye, lost his right index finger, has had major reconstruction to right hand and has nerve damage in both arms due to an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2011. His challenge was not only the blindfold, but in choosing which arm to shoot with.
Hines said he grew up shooting archery for fun with his right hand, but after his injury he shot left-handed and hunted left-handed. “While practicing, I discovered that because my right hand had more sensation than the left, I could feel the tactile site off the stand and do it right handed,” he said.
Burnett said they met on a softball league and compete at all the sports together so they know each other fairly well. They’ve also been dating for nine months. She said Hines had only practiced with the blindfold four times and three of those times were here at USMA. “Once we got it going, we got into a grove and we got everything locked down. I just did minor adjustments, me not telling him too much or too little information because he can’t see during the competition,” she said.
Hines earned the gold medal during the competition.
Breaking BarriersMoffett said the goal of developing the visual impairment category was to break barriers. “The perception is you have to have sight to be able to do this, and we want to break those barriers,” he said. “We want to show the world that people with any disability can still do whatever they want. We want to break that perception that a person with a visual impairment can’t do an aiming sport. Just make some minor modifications and they’re good to go. Let’s continue to break barriers and show that people with whatever injury, illness or wounds can do whatever they want. We just have to figure out a way.”