WEST POINT, NY, UNITED STATES
By Sameria Zavala
Womack Army Medical Center Public Affairs
WEST POINT, N.Y. (June 13, 2016) – Look left, look right, look down, breathe out and settle. Don’t force it, just release it. Staff Sgt. Eric Pardo, of San Antonio, Texas, a retired healthcare specialist returns to participate in the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games held at the United States Military Academy at West Point and recalls life changing stories that lie within the compartments of his mind.
Pardo, a native of North Bergen, New Jersey, experienced multiple injuries while serving as a combat medic including: his ankle, left knee, bulging disc, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. After 17 years of active-duty service, he now resides in San Antonio as a phlebotomist at a local health center.
“I was told by my orthopedic surgeon, who was also a triathlete, that I could no longer run or upright cycle again in 2012,” said Pardo.
After hearing this news, Pardo decided not to listen to the doctor and continue physically as if his body’s abilities had not changed, but he quickly found out that his body would not perform as it once did.
“He [the orthopedic surgeon] told me to try swimming and recumbent cycling. I kind of scoffed at that because, to me, that wasn’t really physically demanding. I almost took it as an insult. He took away everything I did for physical fitness. I couldn’t just pick up a pair of sneakers and just run anymore or take my cycling shoes and my bike and just go riding.”
After a couple of weeks, I decided to give this cycling and swimming thing a shot,” Pardo said.
Pardo’s main events during this year’s Warrior Games are archery, cycling, swimming and sitting volleyball. He is also participating in track and field events.
He practices archery two times a week for two hours.
“I love archery; it just gives me that piece of mind. I get ‘geeked out’ when I talk about archery,” said Pardo.
As Pardo describes how to set up a good shot during archery, he explains that it’s more about releasing the memories of his past that helps him perform versus releasing the bow.
“When I am setting up my shot, if my hand is not steady, I need to stop, look left, look right, look down, breathe out and settle. If I acknowledge that memory that makes me unsteady and deal with it instead of trying to ignore it, my performance is efficient and not just effective.”
In 2014, Pardo participated in the Army Trials here at West Point and won the gold medal for recumbent cycling with a 2-minute lead.
“Cycling helped me heal,” said Pardo. “Before that, I was focused on what I couldn’t do. After I started cycling, I felt like I was back. It helps me get rid of the agitation; it helps me push through a lot of the physical barriers. I don’t feel like I’m broken anymore. I’m not a defective piece of equipment. Look at what I have done.”
When I’m riding and swimming. You can’t text or call me, whatever it is, it can wait till later, I’m in my zone.”
Pardo spoke on the technique and discipline it takes to swim competitively.
“I took to swimming because I found out I can do it well and I can teach it. If I can help someone to not get hurt while swimming, that’s awesome. That is why I became a medic.”
During an airborne operation, Pardo’s right angle got caught in a hole as he was landing and it “rolled [sprained].” He packed his parachute, and ran to his rally point. He didn’t realize the extent of his injury, which damaged it further.
It wasn’t until he was standing in formation in front of his platoon during a memorial for one of his fallen comrades that he realized he could not endure standing for the entire ceremony.
“After that, I was told I could not lift a fully equipped 200-pound service member 100 meters and effectively evade enemy fire. That bothered me because in my mind I could do it all,” said Pardo. “It took me a while to come to terms with that.”
When asked how Pardo’s injuries affected him and his life, he showed a meme on his cell phone of a male lion showing his teeth, with a caption that read, “I came for everything they said I couldn’t have.”