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Soldier aiming for gold at Warrior Games

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (May 03, 2010) -- He'll have a tough time swimming -- and shooting -- and he's got stiff competition from his training buddy. But Sgt. Robert W. Laux wants to take home some metal and recognition from the Warrior Games in Colorado.

"To have a gold medal around my neck -- to have some of the Paralympics (people) recognize me," said Laux, outlining his hopes for the competition. "I don't know if I'm going to qualify for them or not, but just to have some people kind of recognize me and my abilities, and that I'm actually somewhat good. Like an athlete. Like a real Olympian."

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Laux, assigned now to the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is participating in the first-ever "Warrior Games," May 10-14, in Colorado Springs, Colo. He'll compete in the "Ultimate Warrior" competition.

The games are a joint effort between the Department of Defense and U.S. Olympic Committee to inspire recovery, capitalize on physical fitness, and promote opportunities for growth and achievement among wounded, ill, or injured servicemembers. Laux will be one of an estimated 200 servicemembers to participate in the games, about half of which are Soldiers.

Laux, a 28-year-old infantryman, was struck by an improvised explosive device Nov. 18, 2007 while on patrol in Yusufiyah, Iraq. He served then with the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

"A really small IED went behind me -- I was dismounted -- so I had nothing protecting me but myself and it basically just got my left arm," Laux said.

Laux's left arm and hand -- once his dominate arm -- is still attached to his body. He said he hadn't expected to keep it after the IED blast.

"At first I thought the arm was gone -- the arm was -- no more left arm. Done. I had no thought I'd have it at all," he said. But doctors found the faintest pulse in there, Laux said. And that was enough for them to push through and save it for him. It's taken some 62 surgeries to get him where he is today.

"They did one hell of a job to save this arm," he said.

His left arm sustained nerve and tendon damage from the blast. It still moves and still does a few things for him but it isn't his dominate hand anymore. He's got to depend a lot on the other arm now. He can't bend where his wrist used to be, his elbow doesn't flex as far as it used to flex anymore, his arm doesn't rotate except at the shoulder, and his fingers don't grip or close nearly as good as his right -- they remain open, like a claw.

"This is open. This is closed," he says, demonstrating the current use of his once dominate hand. The two positions look remarkably similar. "I really can't do much with this hand. Yes, I can grab like a cup. I can pretty much pick up anything, but if you ask me to do anything with it, that becomes really difficult, since I don't have a lot of movement with the fingers at all."

He soldiered on through the injury though, and focuses now on intense training for the Ultimate Warrior competition at the games, which involves running, sprinting, swimming, shot-put and air rifle.

"I'm training every day -- every single day. I love to train, I love to get better and better every day," he said. "We're training a lot harder now and getting my times down a lot better, and training in a lot of more and different sports that I thought I never could do. Swimming is my hardest thing. It sucks but it's fun at the same time."

Laux said the swimming is tough for him, because his left arm has difficulty delivering power to move him forward in the pool.

"I really can't cup the water and use a lot of power," he said.

But Laux says what motivates him most is his training partner, Sgt. Rob Brown, also a wounded Soldier, and also competitor for Laux in the Ultimate Warrior competition.

"My competition is pretty damn hard," Laux said of Brown. "He's a freaking machine. He's my biggest competition that I know of, even though we are both in the Army. He basically kills me in everything we do. We're basically like together all the time -- he's doing swimming like me, he's doing the track events like me. We're pushing each other. He's right there with me. Most of the time he gets me -- and some of the time I beat him on his off days. It's a constant battle."

Laux said despite his injury, he wants to stay in the Army, and stay in the fight. And he hopes he can do that as infantryman -- out in the field with his fellow Soldiers.

"I really want to make this a career -- 20 years," he said. "I want to be out in the fight. I'm an 11B and the 11B is still in me."

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