Story submitted by: Dick Halferty
Army Veteran Nathan Turner skiing in Breckenridge, CO with his wife and son. Turner learned to ski during the pandemic.
Paralyzed Veteran regains excitement and adrenaline of being an athlete during pandemic
Veteran Thomas “Nate” Turner, Jr. grew up participating in just about
every sport you can think of. He was a four-sport varsity letterman at a
very large Texas high school and went on to Midwestern State University
where he participated in both football and track. But one horrible
summer day, Turner’s life drastically changed.
In 2012, Turner was cooling off with friends and family at a nearby
lake. One second, he was enjoying the breeze on a swing. The next,
Turner was crashing to the ground, shattering his L-1 vertebrae,
damaging his spinal cord, and losing all feeling and function from the
After two surgeries and two weeks in the hospital, Turner moved to a
rehabilitation hospital where he spent the next three weeks learning how
to walk again. He regained most of the feeling in his legs but lost
nearly all the plantar flexion in both feet.
“I can no longer run, jump, or even stand on my tippy toes,” said
Turner, who served as an Army counterintelligence special agent from
2001 to 2007 and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I am what you call a walking paraplegic.”
After his injury, Turner and his wife moved back home to the Houston area. There, he was introduced to the Spinal Cord Injury Clinic at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.
“During my orientation, I met Recreation Therapist JeMarques Handy
and was told that if there was anything athletic that I needed or
wanted, he was the person to contact,” said Turner. “I had been riding a
recumbent trike regularly but needed something a little more
comfortable and challenging.”
“VA Recreation Therapy promotes wellness through leisure and physical
activity,” said Handy. “Mr. Turner was a pleasure to work. He is an
avid cyclist and I am glad to see him explore and excel at other adapted
sports. Our Recreation Therapy department strives to encourage and
support all Veterans, no matter where they are in their physical therapy
After a VA Cycling Clinic, Handy introduced Turner to a more advanced tadpole recumbent trike.
“My wife and I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon and took the trike
with us. I got to ride on some beautiful trails and then some off-road
mountain trails in Colorado Springs with a cousin,” said Turner. “The
trike gave me new-found adrenaline rush and sense of freedom as I was
zooming down the mountain. The trike is definitely something that I am
very, very grateful for and can’t thank JeMarques and the Houston VA
Army Veteran Nathan Turner skiing in Breckenridge, CO.
After the successful riding
adventure, Turner turned his focus to skiing, discovered an adaptive
bi-sit-ski, and signed up for lessons.
“This was the first time since I broke my back that I felt the
excitement and adrenaline of being an athlete. I was hooked on adaptive
skiing from that point on. I told my wife that I wanted to go skiing
every year,” said Turner, who is looking forward to participating in
VA’s National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.
While VA was forced to cancel this year’s event because of the
COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual event will take place March 29 – April 2.
Download the app at Veterans Winter Sports Clinic or search the App store for “Veterans Winter Sports Clinic” and sign-up before March 1.
A world leader in rehabilitation, the National Disabled Veterans
Winter Sports Clinic provides nearly 400 profoundly disabled Veterans
with training and rehabilitation every year. Veterans with traumatic
brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, visual impairments, amputations,
and other severe disabilities are challenged to overcome perceived
limitations through adaptive skiing, sled hockey, scuba diving, rock
wall climbing, education, and other activities.
For more information about the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, VA adaptive sporting events, or Houston VA’s Recreation Therapy, call 713-791-1414, ext. 23537.