Sports helping Mentor-on-the-Lake man win against scars of war
Since the crash seven years ago, Kelly has accepted the fact that he is disabled, and it has allowed him to gain freedom by participating in the Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic through the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he said.
Kelly, of Mentor-on-the-Lake, served in the Army during Desert Storm. He has suffered from panic attacks and post traumatic stress nightmares and then his physical injuries from the crash after his service, he said.
It took five years for him to decide to participate in the sports clinic, but he realized that talking with other veterans brought him a sense of peace, he said.
"I really just didn't want to admit that I was disabled," he acknowledged.
The Veterans Affairs sports clinic aims to keep veterans active, said Janelle Howard, a recreation therapist.
The program offers a variety of sports, including archery, curling, rock climbing and scuba diving.
He won the 2010 gold medal in skiing with a time of 39 seconds.
He was able to ski by using a specially designed chair and with help from a partner on skis.
The physical preparation required attending a fitness clinic two days a week, Kelly said.
"Mentally, it was just kind of getting over everything," he said.
Before the crash, Kelly was very active and had worked as a firefighter, so the ensuing adjustment was difficult, he said.
After the accident he stayed at various hospitals before moving out with his father. He has now been living on his own for four years.
He uses a wheelchair, and has made significant progress since the crash.
His service dog Buddy, a Jack Russell terrier, helps him avoid panic attacks and regain awareness during nightmares.
"He'll lick my face, bark at me or bite my ear. Whatever it takes," he said.
Kelly said he strongly recommends a service dog to any veteran who suffers from the mental anguish of war.
Kelly has several other medals on display in his home, some from target shooting and other sports, and others from his military service.
With the recent marking of the 20-year anniversary of Desert Storm, Kelly knows that his nightmares might increase.
"I have them every once in a while, maybe once a month," he said. "Usually it's around anniversary time."
The help of his service dog and playing sports have really helped him to turn things around.
"In the past eight months I've changed so much — my whole attitude, my whole personality," Kelly said. "I used to have the shades pulled down with no lights on and sit in the dark."
He definitely plans to continue participating in the sporting events, and told his coach to sign him up for everything, he said.
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