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Retired Air Force pararescue takes to the slopes

Air Force Veteran Francis “Frankie” Reilly grew up loving sports. Reilly loved to play baseball, football and hockey. He also had a passion for wrestling. Sports allowed him to make friends, taught him teamwork and accountability, and gave him a sense of purpose.

After high school, Reilly wanted to better himself and be a part of a team, which led him to enlist in the Air Force. Always wanting to challenge himself, Reilly volunteered for pararescue (PJ) training after his first deployment to the Persian Gulf.

As a PJ, Reilly deployed multiple times to Afghanistan. In late 2004, Reilly returned from his third deployment after a combat search and rescue mission in which one teammate died and a close friend was seriously injured.

A week after Reilly’s return stateside, his command asked him to perform jumpmaster duties for a dusk static line jump in Arizona. “I just got back from visiting my friend in the hospital and was not mentally and emotionally prepared for this jump,” Reilly said. “But I knew my team needed me and the flight doctor cleared me to go.”

Reilly proceeded with the jump and exited the aircraft in a compromised position. As his parachute deployed, his right leg went through the risers and snapped his leg backward, causing a complete anterior dislocation of the knee. He landed safely but with a severe injury to his leg that required immediate evacuation to a trauma center, where doctors determined that he had torn the artery in his knee and all but one of his ligaments. Additionally, Reilly’s leg was paralyzed from the knee down.

It took over two years, several surgeries and intensive rehabilitation, but Reilly continued his military service as an instructor for pararescue and combat rescue officers. But the damage to his leg was permanent and required constant functional corrective workouts to stay in shape and relieve the associated pain.

After many years of physical and mental setbacks, Reilly began participating in adaptive sports in events for swimming, cycling and track and is currently training for the paracycling world cup.

“Participating in adaptive sports has been great for my physical and mental health,” Reilly said. “It keeps me active, gets me around great people, helps me avoid isolation and self-medicating.

“I look forward to skiing at the winter sports clinic,” he added. “It will be great being around other veterans and training in a new sport. It will give me the confidence to join my family on the slopes. And who knows, maybe I will like it so much that I become a dual sport athlete.”

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