Most people learn the art of swimming at an early age, and their first plunge is but a hazy memory. But, for retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Lammers, of Tucson, Arizona, the recollection is quite fresh given that his initial foray into the water occurred little more than two years ago.
Despite his scant time in the pool though, Lammers has already tested the waters of competitive swimming. He will take measure of his abilities against athletes of the three other branches of the American military, in addition to those of Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom Armed Forces, during the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games, which will be held at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.
In 2007, while on routine patrol in Baghdad, a Humvee in which Lammers was traveling received a direct hit from an improvised explosive device (IED). Lammers was thrown from the vehicle, losing both legs and his left arm. It wasn’t the first occasion in which the two-time Purple Heart recipient was hit. Three years earlier another IED struck a vehicle in which Lammers was riding.
Shortly after the second attack, Lammers was flown stateside and admitted to Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Another outstanding facet of Lammers’ story is that his swimming was self-taught. He was initially drawn to the pool to lose weight. Like many wounded, ill, and injured soldiers, Lammers finds the buoyant qualities of water liberating. As an adaptive sport, swimming is a low-impact activity that requires few, if any, prosthetic devices.
“I find the process of putting on a prosthetic exhausting,” said Lammers. “Swimming allows me to regain a sense of independence and frees me from reliance upon a wheelchair.”
With its gentle repetitiveness, swimming can also be a fantastic stress reliever. But, it is also a daily challenge for Lammers, who pushes himself six days a week, each day propelling through three miles of water over the course of two hours.
Lammers has been receiving instruction to improve his stroke and overall time. A cross-country athlete and basketball player in high school, Lammers said he enjoys competition, but admits swimming against others “was nerve-racking at first.”
Wounded, ill, and injured swimmers are divided into ten classes based on their degree of functional disability. Lammers participates in the freestyle and backstroke, hoping soon to add the butterfly to his list.
Although improving his overall time is important, more than anything, Lammers enjoys being in the water with other people. At Warrior Games he relishes competing on behalf of Team Army and surrounding himself with the other athletes. “I want so much to be here,” said Lammers. “Just pick a lane and let me swim!”
Team Army swim coach Atiba Wade said Lammers is “a quintessential example of how sports transcends competition.” He also states that it’s clear that swimming has become, for Lammers, a journey of self -discovery.
So captivated is Lammers with his newly uncovered passion that he now speaks of his desire to swim the English Channel and the Strait of Gibraltar.
This article was adapted from an original story by John M. Rosenberg, Warrior Transition Command.