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Loss of sight fails to hinder vision of future

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons
  • Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs
More than 550 wounded, ill or injured athletes from 17 nations have come together here to compete in the 2017 Invictus Games; and while the games provide a unique forum for active-duty and veteran service members who became ill or injured during or as a direct result of service, they also lend an opportunity for a diverse group of men and women to share very personal stories of perseverance and triumph in the face of adversity.


Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Dorian Gardner, Public Affairs operations chief with Marine Corps Forces Command, is one of the nearly 80 athletes who comprise this year’s U.S. team who shared how he has continued to overcome obstacles life has challenged him with for the past seven years.


“It was during a deployment to Afghanistan while I was acting as the Public Affairs chief for a battalion that our foot patrol came under mortar fire in late-2010,” Gardner said. “Shrapnel from the one of the mortars that went off near me cut through the optic nerve in my left eye, and I have since completely lost vision in that eye. The impact of the blast also caused significant damage to my right eye, specifically my peripheral and depth perceptions.


“I knew the loss would be permanent, and that meant a lot of uncertainty for me and my military career. I was clueless and fearful of what the future would bring, knowing only that I wanted to continue to serve my county and fellow Marines.”


Gardner spent months back-and-forth transitioning between medical treatment facilities overseas while on his road toward physical recovery, until he eventually arrived back in the states and was checked-into a Wounded Warrior Regiment treatment center in San Diego, California.


The Rialto, California native would spend two additional years under their care focusing on rehabilitation, therapy and regaining mental strength to assist him with his ambition of staying on active-duty.


For those unaware, the Wounded Warrior Regiment was founded in 2007 to help combat-wounded troops. According to their official website, the organization provides leadership while ensuring compliance with laws and Department of Defense instructions related to the support, recovery, and non-medical care of combat and non-combat wounded, ill and injured Marines, Sailors attached to Marine units, and family members to help maximize recovery as they return to duty or transition back into to civilian life.


“And I did end up staying active,” Gardner said. “Around mid-2012, I was able to begin shadowing the Public Affairs chief over at 29 Palms while facing the very daunting challenge of having to figure out how I was going to learn to do a job I had done for nearly nine years, only now as a legally blind Marine.”


While photography posed another significant challenge for the tenacious troop, one aspect of military life remained un-phased – leading other Marines. 


“It gave me confidence and esteem knowing they admired and looked up to me; not because of my limitations, but rather because of what I had been through, survived and overcome,” Gardner said. “My top priority, since the day I became privileged enough to call myself a Marine, has been and will continue to be taking care of and leading other Marines – to guide incredible men and women, and help them grow to reach their fullest potentials.”


Rarely are challenged faced alone, and Gardner attests to the care provided to him while on his road to recovery; but another thing he gained in the midst of tragedy was something profoundly beautiful – a family.


“In mid-2013 I married a corpsman who aided me during therapy; we now share four wonderful children together who bring an incredible amount of love and happiness into my life, beyond the pride I feel each day through continuing my career as a Marine,” Gardner said.


The transition from recovering wounded service member to seasoned athlete did not happen right away for Gardner. It took an event at West Point, New York, to inspire the Marine to give adaptive sports and Marine trials a chance.


“I had never done anything I am doing now competitively, but this year has been a year of overcoming more firsts for me,” Gardner said. “From trials in March, to Warrior Games in July and now here at Invictus… I have proven to myself just how far I can push my limits.


“All of this has given me something to strive toward. I had no idea what I was getting myself into with trials or it I would be any good, but each success or hurdle I overcome just pushes and motivates me to be better at my next opportunity.”


Self-drive aside, Gardner attributes most of his success at these competitions to pride – what he feels when he is representing something bigger than himself.


“There truly is no greater feeling that representing your service branch and your nation during these games,” he said. “To represent our country on an international stage is something I never dreamed I would do in my lifetime, and it is incredibly humbling.


“What these sports do for us varies so tremendously athlete to athlete… probably most important, they give us purpose in life and show us we can still have value on teams and contribute. For me, all of this has pushed me to always strive for more. There is so much determination, drive and talent on this U.S. team – and we all came to win. The intensity from every athlete from all these nations is difficult to quantify, but we are all here to inspire and showcase our strength.”


Editor’s note: Gardner is slated to compete in field, powerlifting and swimming during this year’s Invictus Games.


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