Posted June 19, 2014
“I was the first amputee to return to combat,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Andy McCaffrey from Arlington, Virginia. “A Chinese hand grenade detonated in my hand.”
During the last few weeks of his tour to Afghanistan in 2002, McCaffrey was involved in a training accident with a grenade. The accident resulted in a below-elbow amputation.
“I set record time; within four days of me arriving at Walter Reed, they had a prosthetic on me,” McCaffrey said.
He said that he was not going to let his injury stop him from continuing his Army career. Within a month of his accident, he was tying barbells to his prosthesis, teaching himself to do a pushup, and trying to make sure he was incorporating his prosthetic hand in everyday life.
“Exactly two years to the date after losing my hand I was back in Afghanistan,” McCaffrey said.
During those two years, he went back through the Q course, the initial formal training program for entry into the United States Special Forces, to re-certify so he could stay a part of the team.
Later in McCaffrey’s career, he started to fall into a depressive state. During that time, a fellow soldier introduced him to cycling, and McCaffrey immediately fell in love with the sport. He went through many different prostheses until he found the perfect one for cycling. “It turned out a cheap piece of bent plastic was the best fit for my riding,” he said.
On June 15, McCaffrey competed in the time trial race for the 2014 U.S. Army Warrior Trials on the streets of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York. More than 100 wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans from across the United States competed in the Warrior Trials where athletes from the Army, Marines, and Air Force faced off in archery, basketball, cycling, track and field, swimming, shooting, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball. Participants in the trials included athletes with spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, visual impairment, serious illnesses, and amputations.
“I started the race at 8:20 a.m. and set a goal to be in my room by 10 a.m. I was back in my room before 9:45,” said McCaffrey. He took second place in the Permanently Disabled Uprights group, having competed on an upright bicycle that was required to complete about 30 kilometers. This particular race covered the longest distance in the cycling events.
McCaffrey has been on several different cycle teams during his career in the Army and continued after his retirement in October 2013. He credits cycling with helping in his healing process and hopes that soldiers will not sit around and focus on their injuries and will instead find a sport or activity to focus on.
The Adaptive Reconditioning program is a program that includes activities and sports that wounded, ill, and injured soldiers can participate in to optimize their physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being.
As a cyclist, McCaffrey is no stranger to the fact that good nutrition, activity, and sleep are important in training. These are the same three principles involved in the Army’s Performance Triad. He wants to let soldiers know the importance of training for a bike race: “You wouldn’t just jump in a car and start racing in NASCAR.”
McCaffrey never gave up and became the first soldier to return to Afghanistan with a prosthetic arm. Now, he wants to see other wounded, ill, and injured soldiers fight on and find that one activity that keeps their focus on a better future. He is looking forward to competing in the 2014 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado, slated for September 28-October 4.
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from an article by Sgt. Eric Lieber.