MIGHTY SPORTS
Leanne Thomas

Purple Heart recipient gets 'back into the fight' with adaptive sports

(Photo by Leanne Thomas)

"Back in the days when I got injured while serving overseas, the program to recover wasn't like the WTB (Warrior Transition Battalion) is now," explained Capt. David Espinoza, a wounded warrior athlete who is competing at the 2019 Army Trials, March 5-16, 2019.

Espinoza is a light-hearted, Florida-native, and also a Purple Heart recipient who has spent over a decade serving his country. Currently assigned to WTB-Hawaii, he is recovering from a motorcycle accident and receiving care at Tripler Army Medical Center. There he completed seven surgeries and received 26 pins in his left hand.


"The WTB is a great program because the unit has given me time to recover and get 'back into the fight,'" he said. "And being a part of the WTB has also helped me to recover from my previous deployments."

Espinoza was first led down the road to recovery in 2007 when the signal officer, a sergeant at the time, was deployed to Iraq. During a night convoy mission, Espinoza's squad was ambushed by insurgents when his Humvee got hit by an IED and he fractured his left arm and femur.

Staff Sgt. Kohl McLeod, a wounded warrior athlete from Fort Benning gets ready to shoot a bow at archery practice during the 2019 Army Trials.

(Photo by Leanne Thomas)

"I saw a bright light and my life flashed right before me ... it was like shuffling a deck of cards," he said. "The first card was me as a kid ... then I recalled my entire life, all the way to current time."

That experience, he explained, "Was an eye-opener, and it makes me feel grateful for what I have now."

While recovering from injuries sustained during combat, Espinoza entered the U.S. Army Reserves and said he made a full recovery but went through the experience alone. Now assigned to a Warrior Transition Unit and competing in adaptive sports, Espinoza has the opportunity to heal alongside soldiers who have faced or are going through similar situations.

"It's an honor to experience this event with other fellow warriors," Espinoza explained.

The 2018 Pacific Regional Trials was Espinoza's first adaptive sports competition. There he established a baseline to see where he stands as a competitor.

"I've seen a lot of improvement ... mind, body, and soul," he said. "This experience has made a big impact on me, and also for my family."

Now a rookie athlete at the 2019 Army Trials, Espinoza is competing in seven of the 14 sports offered: cycling, powerlifting, archery, shooting, wheelchair basketball, rugby, and swimming.

"I'm really looking forward to competing in wheelchair basketball, but one thing I didn't know is that I'm actually good at cycling," the athlete explained. "It's like a mind game and you've got to tell yourself 'I've got this,' because it's seven laps, and those seven laps take a long time to finish."

During the Trials, Espinoza, along with nearly 100 other wounded, ill, or injured soldiers and veterans are competing for the opportunity to represent Team Army at the Department of Defense Warrior Games, coming June 2019 to Tampa, Florida.

"Hopefully this experience keeps going so I can continue to learn and grow as I take this journey to the next level," he said.