ORLANDO, Fla.- A war hero from Estero is one of 113 athletes on Team USA currently competing in the Invictus Games at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando.
Athletes from 14 countries are competing in a series of Paralympic-style games designed to help wounded soldiers recover from the physical and emotional scars of combat.
When retired Lance Cpl. Josh Wege lost both of his legs in Afghanistan, he wondered if he would ever walk, much less run again.
“I do remember a couple times in the hospital, lying in my hospital bed… I was like ‘wow, this is going to be a long way off, but I’m not going to quit.'”
His passion to compete helped Wege’s rehabilitation since the near-deadly day in Afghanistan.
“When I was actually able to sprint again for the first time, I almost kind of cried a little bit because I felt wind running past my face,” Wege described. “I felt normal again.”
Wege earned a spot on Team USA to run in the 400 meter and the 1,500 meter races.
“It’s a completely humbling experience, when I was first approached about the team… Team USA was something that really hit home for me,” Wege said.
For the last six months, Wege’s alarm clock has gone off at 4 a.m. to train for the games. Wege is also a full-time student at Florida Gulf Coast University and the newly-appointed chairman of the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team which got its start in Bonita Springs.
“I’ve been trying to work as hard as I can because I don’t want to come out here and feel like I haven’t given my best to represent my country.”
Wege took to the track at the Wide World of Sports Complex to practice for his Tuesday races.
“The running legs are probably the most natural prosthetics that I’ve ever put on. It feels like you have your legs back, you get power out of it and there’s nothing like it,” Wege said. “It’s almost actually freedom again when you can get up and sprint.”
Wege says running as a double amputee comes with challenges, including sores on his legs.
“Since I don’t have heels, I can’t just stand here. I have to constantly kind of do a dance just to stand up. It’s a huge balance challenge.”
Wege, a former Marine, adds training on his own for the games has been difficult without a drill sergeant constantly pushing him to run harder, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him.
“The word invictus to me is my motto really in life,” Wege said. “All these people are showing the world they can’t be defeated and nothing is going to stop them from becoming their new normal or getting back to life.”