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‘No one ever felt good after giving up’: Airman to compete in sports clinic for disabled vets, troop

WASHINGTON — Airman 1st Class Lauren Arduser said her life changed in one night.

The newly minted Air Force recruit had just arrived in 2022 for training at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. She frequently went out with friends to explore the area and hike in nearby state parks.

One of those trips was halted abruptly when a car that she was riding in unexpectedly flipped several times, crushing her vertebrae, breaking her neck and collapsing her lung.

“I remember feeling really, really tired that day,” said Arduser, 22. “I remember blinking, and on the next blink I woke up 11 days later from a coma.”

She awoke to find she was paralyzed from the neck down. After surgeries and physical therapy, she moved to the St. Louis VA Medical Center — Jefferson Barracks, where she now rehabs three hours a day, five days a week.

Arduser, now a quadriplegic, plans to ski for the first time in her life down the slopes of Snowmass, Colo.

She is one of just two active-duty service members who will participate in the 2023 National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

“Normally the active-duty who participate are in transition out of the service,” said Jason Strickland, the communications director for the clinic.

Arduser and her fellow active-duty service member will join more than 400 veterans with qualifying disabilities at sports clinic out from Saturday through March 31. Hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans, the clinic will offer disabled military members opportunities to participate in activities ranging from scuba diving and sled hockey to cross-country skiing and wheelchair self-defense.

Though Arduser has never having skied before, she isn’t nervous.

“I enjoy doing this kind of stuff. I enjoy kayaking, water skiing and other water sports,” she said, noting the chaos of tubing can be a little daunting.

Arduser said she grew up in her family with a sense of duty, with her great aunt and uncle each serving in the military.

“My aunt worked at the Pentagon,” she said. “I kind of looked up to her, and when it was my turn to figure out what I was going to do with my life, it came back to that.”

Arduser would later find out through resurfaced records that her great-grandfather had a military career as well.

Confident she wanted a career in intelligence, Arduser sat down with a recruiter and produced a list of goals that she wanted to accomplish during her military career, including learning to speak Russian.

Though doctors originally thought she might not survive the car crash, Arduser said she was set on proving them wrong.

“I’ve always been one of those people who doesn’t like being told you can’t do something. Maybe it’s stubbornness,” she said.

Arduser said she has always been somewhat of an adrenaline junkie. Her injuries have not changed that.

At the time her recreational therapist recommended the clinic to her, Arduser did not have the level of mobility that she has today.

“My therapist reassured me there’s people participating with all sorts of injuries,” she said.

Arduser said her plan for the week at the sports clinic is to simply go with the flow.

“My recreational therapist is going to advise me what to do,” she said, expecting to go a little outside her comfort zone.

The clinic challenges disabled military members to overcome perceived limitations, allowing them to build upon their experience and continue to lead active, healthy lives, Strickland said.

Arduser said she approaches life now by allowing her emotions to help her, as opposed to bottling up her feelings.

“If I’m struggling to get up off the floor, I’m going to use that anger to push through, power through, because you’re going to get stronger. A lot of it is mental resilience,” she said. “No one ever felt good after giving up.”

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