Years of determination, hard work and resiliency have led Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson on the cusp of making history at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
With the start of the games one week away, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit Soldier is set to become the first combat wounded active-duty service member to ever compete in the world’s second biggest sporting event.
“I’ve been preparing for this since I got to the unit seven years ago,” Olson said. “I am on a mission to represent our country and the Army in front of the world. I have a lot of people who have helped get me to this point and now it’s time for me to be at my best for two days.”
After walking into Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremonies Aug. 29, Olson will get down to business in two events at the Royal Artillery Barracks. He will compete in the mixed 10-meter air rifle competition Sept. 1 and follow that up on Sept. 4 in the mixed 50-meter prone rifle event.
“I’ve been training really hard this year and I’m ready to finally compete,” Olson said. “I got nominated in January so it’s been a long eight months preparing for London. Watching Sgt. (Vincent) Hancock and Jamie (Gray) win gold at the Olympics just pumped me up even more.”
Olson was severely injured in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in 2004 while deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, resulting in the loss of his right leg from the hip down. After an 18-month rehabilitation stint at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, Olson was given the chance to stay on active duty with the USAMU. Training alongside Olympic and world champions on a daily basis proved to be the best therapy for Olson, he said.
“Everywhere I looked there was an Olympian, a world champion or a national champion,” Olson said. “We all push each other. I immediately set goals for myself, maybe some too high at the beginning, but it was just what I needed to keep moving forward. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself. All I ever wanted to be was a Soldier and despite my injury I was still wearing the uniform.”
Showing the resiliency that enabled him to overcome his devastating injury, Olson has overcome the disappointment of not making the Beijing Games in 2008 to find him on the brink of setting a new standard for injured service members when he toes the line in London.
Using his selection to Team USA as a platform to showcase the notion of ability rather than disability, Olson has been featured on everything from CNN to Fox Sports, in Sports Illustrated to the New York Times, telling his Army story and the reality that despite their injuries, wounded Soldiers still have a place in the military.
“Competing in the Paralympics is much more than going to win a medal,” Olson said. “Soon we will have a full team here and if I am a pioneer of sorts than that’s my role. I want the guys that will be coming here to run circles around me and make multiple Paralympic teams.”
Upon his return from the games, Olson will be among those from the unit looking to fill 24 new positions in the USAMU designated for wounded warriors deemed eligible to stay on active duty as either a Paralympic shooter or a marksmanship instructor.
“I’m going to be representing so many people when I compete,” Olson said. “I’m doing this for all of the service members who have been injured in combat, for those sitting in hospitals right now wondering what lies ahead. I’m doing it for those Soldiers in Afghanistan right now in the middle of a tough fight.
“I can’t promise that I am going to win, but I can promise that I’m going to show the world how tough a U.S. Soldier truly is, how tough an American is. I am mentally and physically ready for this moment. ”