Jan. 23, 2008
Rob Kurz talks about visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Ryan Ayers on visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Tory Jackson talks about visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Kyle McAlarney on visiting Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Notre Dame, Ind. - Note: The Notre Dame men's basketball team, coaching staff and support staff members visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. on Fri., Jan. 18 prior to its game with Georgetown the following afternoon. The Irish squad met with the wounded soldiers and accompanied some of them to physical therapy.
Congreesman Joe Donnelly also was present with the official Notre Dame traveling party during the visit.
It was an emotional and life-changing experience for everyone who visited Walter Reed.
Interviews with several of the team will be posted on und.com in the upcoming days.
By Rob Kurz
There are moments in everyone's life when sacrifices are required. Generally as a college athlete, I would consider early morning wakeup calls, grueling workouts and staying in many weekend nights to be certain sacrifices I have been willing to make in order to improve myself and my team. It is certainly surprising how easy it is to focus solely on your own personal struggles and forget that there is a much bigger world beyond yourself.
This past weekend when our team visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, the emotions each and every one of us felt were life-changing to say the least. When we stepped off the bus, our team and those traveling with us were split into two groups and we were introduced to U.S. soldiers of varying ages who had recently been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. Perhaps the most noticeable and admirable thing about these soldiers was that all of them had smiles on their faces, were not self-pitying, and in fact, were completely focused on making each one of us feel as comfortable as possible.
We saw the wing of the hospital where physical therapy aided in teaching the soldiers how to walk again with their newly administered prosthetic legs. An overwhelming sense of what could be considered guilt came over me as I thought about all the times I had complained when I had to go to physical therapy for a twisted ankle or a broken nose. All I could think about was that every ailment I have had to endure healed in time. But for these men, their injuries were permanent; they did not complain, and instead chose rise above and beyond pain. Many of them spoke about their sincere desire to recuperate so that they might soon resume their duties. I was in awe of the notion that these soldiers, limbs had been mangled or dismembered, but they did not act defeated in any way.
Most of the stories the soldiers told us involved the most amazing acts of bravery. A soldier revealed a decision he had recently made to have his leg amputated. Multiple surgeries failed to rid him of the excruciating daily pain he experienced due to numerous pieces of shrapnel imbedded in his leg. Another high-ranking soldier told us about the day he lost leg after stepping on a land mine while urging his fellow soldiers to fall back, so that they could find safety. This particular soldier called me over to him, looked me in the eyes and told me that leadership is about making the toughest of choices and at the appropriate time having the courage to sacrifice yourself for your betterment of your team. He wanted to teach me that leadership, above all else, carries with it great responsibility. Needless to say, I took this to heart and will not forget his words. While I may not be on a battlefield in Iraq, I can practice leadership skills on a much smaller scale while serving in my role as the captain of our team.
Despite their physical injuries, the courage and patriotism of those soldiers is alive and well. Their optimistic attitudes and overall outlook on life was incredibly magnetic. As I reflect on this experience as a whole, I cannot help but think about a quote I once read in the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven -- `When you sacrifice something precious, you're not really losing it, you're just passing it on to someone else.'
I wish I could tell those soldiers this because the most ironic thing about our visit was that we were supposed to be the ones doing them a favor by visiting and picking up their spirits, but in the end, they were the ones who inspired and forever impacted all of us.