Team USA on their military heroes
As Team USA prepares to compete at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, American athletes reflect on the men and women in the military who have influenced their Olympic and Paralympic journeys.
Ashley Wagner, figure skating: I am an Army brat. I moved nine times in 10 years and it made me incredibly adaptable. I was always the new kid, and because of that, it helped me create a very unique relationship with skating. I never was familiar with my surroundings and the rink was the one place that really felt like home to me because it always gave me this sense of comfort and familiarity.
Elana Meyers Taylor, bobsled: My father graduated from the Naval Academy and then served as a Captain in the Marine Corps in Kuwait in the Gulf War. My father’s military background impacted my journey in several ways. The first is how life changed when he was gone during the war. During that time, I truly saw how strong my mother was and I gained a new respect for her--and that was early in my life, when I was 6 years old--and saw how strong women truly can be. My father’s military experience made him a hard disciplinarian who valued hard work and self-discipline.
Emily Sweeney, luge: I am a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athletes Program (WCAP). I joined the New York National Guard in 2011 and have been a member of the active program on and off since then. I joined so that I could continue pursuing my dreams of becoming an Olympic medalist but prepare myself for something after my life in sport. I wanted to continue being an athlete but wanted to grow in other areas of my life and prepare for something after luge. As a soldier of the WCAP I am required to stay up to date with all of my annual qualifications and help with the recruiting and retention programs of the military when needed. The program does a great job of allowing me to train, but I also have learned how to balance and prioritize more of my schedule. We are soldiers first, but I have my goals within my sport and I am unwilling to compromise my work ethic of training towards them. Sometimes I need to get creative so that I can get everything in! I was the first person in my family to join the military since my grandfathers, who were both in the Navy. I have been a member on and off since 2012.
Michael Schultz, para-snowboarding: I have a strong connection with our veterans. 50% of our prosthetic business is from Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country and world. It is very rewarding for us to help get our veterans the equipment they need to get out and live a more active healthy lifestyle. I like road trips, not a fan of flying. My most memorable trip was with the American 300 Warrior tours in 2011. We visited several military bases in the Middle East to do some motivational stuff for the troops. This trip gave me, even more respect and admiration for our Armed Forces and the personnel that serve our country.
Justin Olsen, bobsled: I am an Army Sergeant with the World Class Athlete Program; our unit is comprised of soldier/athletes and traditional soldiers. Our focus is to be soldiers first while pursuing our Olympic disciplines. I would say the hardest part of balancing my Army career and being the best athlete I can is sometimes where to place emphasis. I want to test myself within the Army and be the best soldier I can for the United States, but sometimes I am unable to attend some career courses due to my athletic scheduling. I am very grateful for the opportunity to wear both uniforms and represent my country.
Luis Moreira, bobsled: I completed six years of active duty from 2006 to 2012, with 27 months of combat in Afghanistan. I was a bronze star recipient for my leadership accomplishments during my last 12-month combat tour. I served in the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division.
My father served in the Portuguese Army as a paratrooper. Growing up as a kid I always loved hearing my dad's Army stories of jumping out of planes. Although I had my heart set on running track after high school, I always dreamt of following his footsteps in becoming a paratrooper.
Amy Purdy, para-snowboarding: My dad is a Vietnam veteran. He was in the Marines and fought for the 9th Marines where many didn't survive. He is one of my heroes and now through my organization, Adaptive Action Sports, we work with many young military veterans. It feels good to give the opportunity to those who have fought so much for our freedom.
Nicole Roundy, para-snowboarding: My boyfriend and partner, Rt. Sgt. Matthew Melancon, was injured in Iraq in 2011. As a result of his injuries, he became a bilateral below-knee amputee two years later and eventually moved to back to Utah to pursue snowboarding. I've never considered myself his caregiver, but I'll admit his loss was greater than mine. Being a civilian amputee, it’s something I lost so young. I didn't get to grow up with two legs or choose a path in life, so the magnitude of my loss was limited. But Matt, I think he will always struggle with losing the Army because his "brothers" were his family. As a soldier, he had a purpose, a place. I can show him life as an amputee, I can show him how to live again and how to move on, but I can't give him back the Army. I will never truly understand that type of loss and what it does to a man. We see what we want to see, but the day to day, that's something different altogether.
Jacqueline Wiles, Alpine skiing: My grandparents on my dad’s side were both active duty during WW2. My grandfather on my mother’s side served in the Navy during the Korean War. My father David Wiles served 6 years active duty and 28 years in the Oregon National Guard. He retired as a Colonel, Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Army. This has had a great impact on my life. I am extremely proud of the service my family has given to this country. It makes me very proud to be an American representing my country.
David Wise, freestyle skiing: My sister is a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, a pilot, and an amputee. My sister is one of the most influential people in my life and when she joined the service it took my respect for the Armed Forces to the next level. I truly believe that if I wasn't an athlete I would be glad to give a few years of my life to the service of our country the way that my sister has.
Annie O'Shea, skeleton: My youngest sister Erin is in the Coast Guard. Right now she is stationed in Mobile, Alabama and we just hope that she forever stays safe.
Aaron Pike, para-cross country, and para-biathlon: Park Rapids, Minnesota was where I was born, but I grew up in the military and moved every three years and graduated high school in Germany. My dad was in the Air Force, so I grew up in a military family. My dad didn't retire until after I went to college. So yeah, I am an Air Force brat. I think that when you grow up in the military you become very versatile and learn to be open to making new friends and starting new chapters in your life. It also exposes you to a lot of people and new places. I would never have imagined I would graduate from high school in Germany. I think that I was able to see much more of the world at a young age than most kids.
Aaron Blunck, freestyle skiing: My grandpa on my dad’s side was a doctor for the Army. I never got to meet my grandpa but I think he had a lot of cool stories that I would have loved to hear.
J.R. Celski, short track: My father was a Major in the Army and my brother is currently a Captain in the Army. The military has had a huge impact on my family. My parents moved around to several places in their lifetimes because of it. My father was stationed in Kansas when they had Chris, Germany when they had David, and California when they had me. When I was born, it was at the tail end of my dad's career in the Army, so I didn't get to experience moving around a ton.
Steve Cash, sled hockey: My uncle and my brother both served in the military. Knowing the sacrifice that it takes to serve your country, I am tremendously proud to say I have family members that are former Marines. When I put on the USA sweater, I make sure to think about the men and women of the armed forces that have made and continue to make the ultimate sacrifice, including my brother Donny and uncle Tim. Without people like them, I wouldn't have the road of freedom paved for me and the least I can do to pay them back is by representing my country to the best of my abilities.
Monique Lamoureux-Morando, hockey: My brother, Jacques, is currently in the Air Force. He came back from a deployment in Dec. of 2013. He returned right before the 2014 Olympics. If anything, his service always gives me perspective on life and makes me appreciate the things I am able to do, and it means that much more to me to represent my country.
Aileen Geving, curling: My husband is an Iraq War vet. I am proud of him and what he has done, we understand each other a bit better because we both have full-time jobs and something on the side (me curling and him military). He works for BNSF Railway full time. We get that the training is for a good cause and are used to one of us being gone each weekend for what we call our "second jobs."
We have both traveled the world for these second jobs and really appreciate life and being American because of these experiences. We have really learned that the small nuances and minor things a lot of people complain about are not worth the time for us to get bothered by. So much bigger is out there.
Gus Kenworthy, freestyle skiing: My oldest brother, Hugh, was a Marine for five years directly after high school and he served as a Sergeant. After the military, he moved back to Colorado and went to college at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he graduated on Dean’s List. He now lives in Denver with his longtime girlfriend, Michelle St Onge (a midwife) and he works as a personal trainer and at a restaurant.
Matt Mortensen, luge: My brother and I are both soldiers in the National Guard. We are a part of the 1156 Engineer Company based out of Kingston, NY. This unit just returned from a nine-month long deployment in September. I was not on the deployment personally, as I am a part of the Army World Class Athlete Program which is based out of Fort Carson, Colo. Joining the military has been one of the best choices of my life. Without the support of both the World Class Athlete Program and my National Guard Unit, I would not have been able to continue as an athlete after the 2010 Games.
Andrew Haraghey, para-Alpine skier: My mother was in Air National Guard before I was born, and both my grandfathers served in Korea. My grandfather on my dad's side also served in Vietnam in the Army, while my other grandfather was in the Marines. This was all before I was born so it just instilled a sense of respect for what they had done to protect and work for this country.
Madison Chock, figure skating: My dad served in the Navy. With his background in the Navy, this helped instill a determination and strong work ethic in me.
Erin Bartlett, speed skating: My fiancé is in the Army. When he joined, it pushed me to be a better athlete and the best version of myself. It has 100% made me a better speed skater looking up to him.