Cancer-surviving U.S. Army captain to compete in Invictus Games

Fort Sam Houston nurse will enter wheelchair racing, swimming contests

SAN ANTONIO – Hundreds of military personnel flood the sidewalks of Fort Sam Houston at the start of every day, marching together to take part in the morning formation call.

As for Captain Kelly Elmlinger, a U.S. Army nurse at San Antonio Military Medical Center, her mornings are spent preparing for the challenge that lies ahead: a three-mile training session on a wheelchair racer on this particular day, with the ultimate goal of competing in this year’s Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida.

In 2013, Elmlinger was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in the lower part of her left leg that left her with permanent foot drop and nerve damage.

“Prior to my diagnosis, running was definitely my main sport -- even running at the collegiate level,” Elmlinger said. “But once I was diagnosed and I wasn’t able to really do much fitness, let alone running, then having all my surgeries and then realizing running was just never going to be an option for me, it ... left me lost.”

She said she turned to adaptive sports as a way to redefine herself as an athlete.

Elmlinger said she was first introduced to adaptive sports shortly after her surgeries and rehab by a local organization under Texas Regional Paralympic Sport, who partner with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Sam Houston. She was encouraged by fellow members at the transition command to participate in the inaugural Invictus Games in London 2014 – an international Paralympic-style multi-sport event created by England’s Prince Harry – beginning what would be a renewed purpose in life.

“I had no idea what to expect because that was my first competition in adaptive sports (and I) had not participated in the Warrior Games or any type of Paralympic event up until that point,” Elmlinger said. “It was very humbling (and) I have no doubt the 2016 games will meet that expectation but I’m very thankful for Prince Harry’s vision and what he started because I know I’m not the only one who has been positively affected by what he’s set out to achieve.”

The Warrior Games inspired Prince Harry’s vision during his trip to the U.S. in 2013 and it was then that he decided to create the Invictus Games -- named after the poem “Invictus,” written by William Ernest Henley, and Latin for “unconquered” or “undefeated” – for wounded, ill, and injured servicemen and women, both active duty and veteran.

Elmlinger said her drive and motivation comes from friends lost during her deployments and some lost to cancer.

“I want them to look down and I want their families to see that I’m still here,” she said. “I’m still going to live my life, I’m still able to do this, and the least that I can do for them is to live it to my fullest potential.”

Now in its second year – the event did not take place in 2015 due to truncated planning time and lack of funds – the U.S. will host the Invictus Games in Orlando and will take place May 8-12 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports venue.

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