He was concerned and sad – sad because one of his soldiers had been killed in the blast, and concerned because at the time he did not know if it had been an IED or if the blast had come from an artillery round he had called in as a fires support officer.
Dudek suffered a spinal cord injury, which left him with limited mobility in his legs, requiring him to use his arms to get around most of the time. After months of rehabilitation, he was released and allowed to continue his service through the Army’s Continuation On Active Duty program.
“I never had issues with being injured,” said Dudek, now the plans, procedures and policy chief for the Warrior Transition Command. “I was there, and I knew the rules. When you are already 13-14 years into your career, you’re mature enough to know that in combat – stuff happens. I wasn’t particularly angry that I got hit.”
It was this attitude of acceptance and positivity that would propel Dudek towards helping others who were wounded, ill or injured. It would also compel him to compete in the 2012 Warrior Games. The U.S. Olympic Committee hosts the Warrior Games which features service members who are wounded, ill or injured competing in a variety of sporting events.
“When people get injured catastrophically, whatever personality they had before is exponential now,” said Dudek. “If they were positive before, then they are going to be positive, and if they are kind of negative about things, that’s the way their mind gravitates toward. They allow themselves to be talked out of the quality of life that they can really achieve.”
When Dudek was commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, he did not have time to compete due to his busy schedule.
“It made me kind of jealous,” said Dudek. “After my change of command, I said I am going to compete this year.”
Dudek loves swimming and he used swimming to lose weight even while in command. Every Tuesday and Thursday after work, he would go swim a minimum of a mile and half to two miles in an hour..
“You work on form, flip turns and starts,” said Dudek. “It’s not like you just swim two miles and they are done with you. It’s like 100m at a shot, 200m at a shot, 400m, 50m, 25m and the lower you go the more painful it is, because that’s where you are really sprinting. And that’s where your lungs feel like they are going to explode.”
Dudek said it would be interesting to see where he matches up with the other swimmers this year. He is a little bit faster than he was last year.
“I am not exactly worried about swimming in terms of other people,” said Dudek. “I am worried about my time and the goals that I have set.”
Dudek set goals that would help push him to the level where he can be competitive.
“I will be unbelievably ecstatic with 30 seconds in the 50 free,” said Dudek. “I want 43 seconds in the 50 backstroke, I want 22 seconds or faster for the racing wheelchair, and I want 40 seconds for the 200, and I didn’t put anything for the 1500 in that racing wheelchair because that’s just going to be a gut check.”
Initially, Dudek thought he would be racing hand cycles. He uses a hand cycle borrowed from Ride 2 Recovery through coordination with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“I have been working that real hard and working the hills at Fort Belvoir,” said Dudek. “I thought I was doing really good until Rory Cooper showed up with his bike one day and said, ‘you know this isn’t a hill; you have to come to Pennsylvania.’”
Rory Cooper, FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America chair at the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, University of Pittsburgh, is one of Dudek’s mentors.
“I placed fourth in hand cycling that we had in the last trials,” Dudek said. “That’s not gold medal or silver, so I needed to pick a different sport, and I am doing triathlons so I need to do racing wheelchair anyway.”
Dudek has been training so much that he wore the tire out of the frame on his racing wheel chair. He had to borrow another one from the WTU at Fort Carson, Colo.
Dudek hopes that other athletes will realize their potential and begin to compete as well. He believes it could even save their life in the end.
“Once you get a person on the ski slope, once you get a person up on a horse, once you get a person in a kayak, that light bulb is going to come on,” said Dudek.
Although the gold medal is on everyone’s mind, as well as to triumph and win, the athletes really want to inspire others and to let them to know to just give it a try, said Dudek.
“This is the business of being sharp, of being professional, whether you’re on the battlefield or in the Warrior Games,” said Dudek. “I want to be at the top of my game. Some people draw a distinction, which is only going to hurt them in the end. I took somebody’s slot here so I better excel. I had better do my job.”
Story by Sgt. Jerry Griffis, 43rd Public Affairs Detachment
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