News | August 08, 2016


Student veteran strikes gold at Invictus Games

4 - minute read

Josh Wege wasn’t certain he was going to win the 400-meter race in the Invictus Games until he crossed the finish line. He’d kicked out of the blocks ahead of the rest of the pack in the outside lane on the track at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. He couldn’t see behind himself to know if any competitors were gaining on him. And he was losing steam near the end of the dash.

“I think I won by about 2 seconds,” the 26-year-old FGCU student recalls a few weeks after racing to a gold medal in the May 8-12 Invictus Games. “It was a big deal to represent Team USA. I was proud to contribute to the medal count.”

The international athletic competition engages wounded, ill and injured service men and women – both active duty and veteran — in sports such as track and field, powerlifting, rowing, swimming and wheelchair rugby.

“Invictus” means “unconquered” in Latin. And the word rings true for this Marine Corps veteran (2008-11) who was not defeated by losing both legs below the knees on a 2009 tour of duty in Afghanistan. A lifelong multi-sport athlete, Wege’s competitive drive helped propel him through rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Within a few months of arriving at the facility in Washington, D.C., he was walking on prosthetic legs. Now, he owns about 20 different prosthetics for daily activities as well as running, swimming and softball.

Josh Wege, far left, is introduced with other members of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team during a visit to FGCU.
Josh Wege, far left, is introduced with other members of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team during a visit to FGCU.

“I set small goals, then higher goals,” Wege says. “Mentally, I didn’t think my ‘new normal’ would be so complete by now. It’s been six years since I was hurt, and I’m very well adapted. Sports was always part of my life — if it hadn’t been, I don’t think I’d be at this stage.”

Softball, baseball, football, volleyball, cycling, rowing, swimming, track and soccer — Wege lists them all as interests. He learned about adaptive sports while rehabbing at Walter Reed, where he played wheelchair basketball and sit-down volleyball. By 2011, he was able to compete in the Warrior Games, a multi-sport inter-branch competition for wounded service personnel and veterans organized by the Department of Defense. He won four gold medals in track and medaled on the volleyball and basketball teams.

“The games are kind of a rite of passage in rehabilitation,” Wege says. “It’s a way to tell if you’re done with physical therapy.”

While at Walter Reed, he also joined the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, which plays exhibition games across the country by invitation. The mission: To inspire and educate the public while enhancing the health and welfare of players.

“It shows that we can still serve even though we’re away from the service. We’re just playing a game, but it means a lot to a lot of people. It’s a chance to be an example for others,” Wege says. “For us, it’s an avenue to get back some of the camaraderie that a lot of guys have trouble finding in the civilian sector, to be around others who understand.”

He’s remained on the team roster for five years and particularly enjoys coaching and mentoring at the Kids Camp the team runs for youngsters 8–12 years old who have had an amputation or are missing a limb. “It’s super rewarding,” Wege says. “We teach kids life lessons.”

On one of the Wounded Warrior team’s outings, the Campbellsport, Wis., native played at FGCU, which gave Wege a chance to scout out the campus at a time when he was considering a variety of schools. He decided to pursue an exercise science degree at FGCU with the goal of becoming a certified prosthetist, an allied-health professional educated and trained to make and fit prostheses and manage comprehensive prosthetic patient care.

During the school year, Wege takes courses Mondays through Thursdays and travels on weekends with the amputee softball team. Yet he’s still found time to get involved on campus. He gave a speech at last year’s Veterans’ Voices Symposium and volunteered at the Department of Rehabilitative Sciences’ annual public amputee clinic.

“I wanted to be independent and channel myself in a different way,” Wege says. “Both of my parents were teachers, but I had never really applied myself in school. I saw this as another challenge – not physical but mental.”

That doesn’t mean he’s ruled out another run at Invictus Games glory. The 2017 competition is scheduled for September in Toronto

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