Donna Pratt didn’t want to be an individual.
That’s how she felt though hobbling around on crutches in Fort Stewart, Georgia, separated by thousands of miles from her military family in Iraq.
“I joined the Army because I wanted to be part of a team; part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to be selfless and to serve others,” Donna says.
For a while, Donna was able to fulfill her dream. The Chicago native served first in the Gulf War, separated from the Army after eight years, then rejoined after 9/11 to continue the mission. She deployed with an armor unit to Iraq and took her job maintaining the vehicles to such heart she prayed over the weapons before each mission. While she was overseas her legs and feet began to swell and over time became too painful to walk. A day after she was shipped home for treatment several soldiers in her unit were injured by an improvised explosive device. Donna was flooded with guilt.
“It tore me apart. The one time I wasn’t there someone got hurt,” Donna recalls.
Back stateside, Donna had her own injuries to deal with. Multiple surgeries were required to repair damaged tendons, torn ligaments, and fractured bones in her feet and ankles. After two years in a wheelchair, “I was so depressed I wanted to quit on life,” Donna says.
Her cadre recognized her despair and suggested she attend a wheelchair basketball camp.
“When I entered the gymnasium, I was full of self-pity,” says Donna. “But when I got on the court, I could smell the rubber burning from the wheelchairs and feel the piercing screech of grinding metal. These guys were serious, they were competitive, and I was immediately reborn.”
After the experience, Donna had a strong desire to pursue more adaptive sports opportunities.
“That’s when I discovered Wounded Warrior Project (WWP),” says Donna. “They really kick-started my recovery, both physically and emotionally. With WWP, I have been more places and done more things than I ever thought I could do.”
She’s been a guest at the White House, skied the mountains in Utah, and jumped out of airplanes. But it was a Soldier Ride in Jacksonville, Florida that Donna says she’ll never forget.
“I knew another warrior from my unit paralyzed from the waist down. He was depressed, full of self-destructive behavior, and quitting on life — just like I remember being. So I offered him my spot in Soldier Ride because I knew it would be good for him,” Donna says.
That warrior took her up on the offer and met another paralyzed warrior on the ride. They made an immediate connection and sparked a permanent positive change in each other’s lives. Once Donna began to feel the satisfaction of helping other people, she craved even more opportunities. So she continued with adaptive sports, archery in particular. Today, Donna is a certified archery instructor and shares her wisdom with other injured warriors in Chicago. She still lives with pain in her ankles, knees, and back, but it doesn’t slow her down. Instead, she focuses on the experiences her injuries have opened up for her and moving forward. Her goal now is the U.S. Paralympics archery team.
“I don’t adapt to life. I make life adapt to me,” Donna says.