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Warrior Games competition help wounded warriors recover

Danielle Pothoof shoots 2017 Warrior Games
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Danielle Pothoof competes in pistol shooting during the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Chicago, July 6, 2017. The DoD Warrior Games are an annual event allowing wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans to compete in Paralympic-style sports. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

CHICAGO, July 8, 2017 — For Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Danielle Pothoof, adaptive sports and her participation in the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games have helped to keep her and her family happy.

Pothoof said she joined the Marine Corps because “it’s the best,” though she got picked on by her cousins for her choice of service, as most of her family served in the Army, and her sister is in the Air Force. She was hit with an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Feb. 26, 2015 — her wedding anniversary. The injuries to her lower leg required an amputation.

Her wife, Courtney Williams, wasn’t aware when she got word of Pothoof’s injury that the incident had occurred on their anniversary.

“I didn’t know that at first, and one day she was like, ‘Oh by the way,’ and I was like, ‘Why did you do that?’ It’s kind of morbid, but it’s an important day for her — ‘That’s the day I got blown up.’ Yeah, that’s not weird,” Williams said. Pothoof was nervous about having her leg removed, she added.

“She was hurting and stressed out all the time, and just grumpy,” she said. “Imagine having a headache forever, that’s similar to the pain she was in. We decided to cut the leg off together, and she was scared that I wouldn’t want to be with someone with one leg, but to me, I wouldn’t want her to live in that kind of pain.

“Now,” she continued, “she’s rock climbing and riding bikes. She wants to do a marathon on a bicycle, and I’m like, ‘I have both legs, and I don’t want to do a marathon.'”

Support for Recovery

Pothoof said that while she was in the hospital, she had some dark days.

“There were some days when I was lying in bed and I’m like, ‘I’m done, I quit.’ When I first had my injury, I told my mom, ‘I’m done with life. I feel like my life is done.’ And she really brought me back through a lot of stuff,” Pothoof said. “I had so many complications with my surgery, and my wife, who is my biggest supporter, she was like, ‘You have to do this. You have to get through this. You have to get through this, because you have me and your kid. We need you as much as you need us. I’ve got your back.'”

Williams said that during the dark days of Pothoof’s recovery, she would send her out on “missions” to get her out of the house, such as finding Christmas presents or collecting seashells on the beach.

“We went from me making her do these things to her doing something every day on her own because she wants to,” Williams said. “She’s gotten over all these hurdles. She’s doing so much better. This is huge.”

When Pothoof was in high school, she played basketball, volleyball and softball and ran sprints and hurdles in track. Now she enjoys playing softball with their son, Parker, 5. “Everything’s a competition to him. It’s pretty great,” she said. “He calls my leg a robot leg.”

Everything is a competition for Pothoof as well, Williams said, even sometimes for her attention. For example, she said, she once took Pothoof’s crutches and left her at a restaurant, “because she was getting on my nerves.”

“I was like, ‘All right, figure it out,'” she said. “It was all in good fun. We can either laugh about it or cry about it. I call her Peggy. We’re so much fuller; this has been a blessing.”

Yin and Yang

Williams said the couple met through mutual friends and immediately had a yin-and-yang connection. “I’m more of the homemaker, and she likes to go outside and get dirty and involve Parker in things,” she said. “She loves to be outside, and I’d rather clean the house.”

Pothoof and Williams both joked that Williams forgets Pothoof is missing a leg sometimes.

“I ask her if she can turn off the light, and she’s like, ‘I’m in bed.’ I tell her, ‘So? I’m on the other side of the bed,'” Williams said. “Sometimes she’ll have her prosthetic off and be leaning up against a chair or the bed, and I’ll forget she doesn’t have a leg. This is something we wanted. I don’t feel like she’s missing anything. I feel like we’re fuller; life is fuller now. I don’t even think about it.”

“She’s like, ‘Babe, get up and do something. What’s taking you so long?’ I’m like, ‘I’m putting on my leg.’ It doesn’t even faze her, which makes me feel a lot better,” Pothoof said.

Warrior Games

Throughout the week, 265 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command, United Kingdom and Australian armed forces have been competing here in shooting, archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.

Pothoof is competing in cycling, air rifle, sitting volleyball and swimming. She earned a gold medal in the women’s recumbent cycling in her category and a bronze medal in sitting volleyball.

Swimming is her favorite sport, she said. “I’m so excited to swim; I love all my other sports, but I’ve worked so hard for swimming, and my son is like a fish in the water. He loves it. He’s very excited to watch it,” she added. “He’s going to go crazy when he sees everybody in the pool. He’s going to want to be in the pool. It’s going to be great.”

(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)

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