Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Warrior Games pushes wounded Marine

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Staff Sgt. Nathan Lynch isn’t the type of guy to sit still for long — not even after a severe injury left him in constant pain.

Lynch, 36, who graduated from Fort Vancouver High School in 1998, has served six tours of duty as a Marine. In 2004, outside of Fallujah in Iraq, his amphibious assault vehicle ran into a low-lying power line, which nearly hit him in the face.

“It almost hit my face, but I put up my left hand to block it, and it arced through my body and exited my right thigh,” Lynch said.

He suffered severe burns, nerve damage and scarring on his heart and other internal organs. Doctors told him he would never walk again without assistance.

“I went through skin grafts, had screws and rods put in my hand,” Lynch said. “I went through 38 surgeries. For a while, they had my hand sewed to my thigh to help with blood flow.”

He was wheelchair bound for a while, but after 11 months, he was pretty much back on his feet. In fact, three of his six tours were completed after the injury.

“I’ve run marathons since then — I laugh at that diagnosis that I couldn’t walk,” Lynch said.

The lingering effects that continue to this day are sensitivity to light, migraines, back spasms, memory issues and nerve problems. But he overcame them and won a gold medal in the 100-meter relay and tandem bike events at the fourth annual Marine Corps Trials competition earlier this month, a Paralympic-style invitational event for wounded, ill and injured Marines and international wounded soldiers.

He did more than that, though, he actually helped found the competition, along with several other programs to help his fellow injured Marines.

“After my injury, they said, ‘You’ll never be able to stay in the Marines,'” Lynch said.

But that didn’t stop him. He studied as much as he could, worked out, did aquatic sports and body boarding to rebuild his muscles — and stayed in the Marines as a weapons instructor.

In 2008, after another deployment, his migraines got worse, and he transferred to the Wounded Warrior Battalion, where he knew many people from his own recovery.

“I would talk to patients coming in, contact their families, arrange flights for their families,” Lynch said.

He also looked for more things to improve their quality of life. He started training wounded Marines and getting equipment for them to compete in sled hockey, wheelchair basketball, polo, fencing and a host of other sports.

“It wasn’t just that, we also added music, art,” Lynch said. “We wanted to address mind, body and spirit. If they wanted to play an instrument, we’d find them an instructor. If they wanted to take an art class, we’d help them do that.”

Founding Team Semper Fi, he also started organizing competitions between various detachments, and that grew to a larger Wounded Warrior competition between the Marines, Air Force, Navy and Army called the Warrior Games, he said.

“We started smack-talking on a bike ride with some generals, and that’s where our Warrior Games came from,” Lynch said, adding proudly that the Marine Corps usually scores the majority of medals in the games.

He competed in and won medals in the 2011 and 2012 games, but was deployed in 2013 and missed that year. He wants to compete in the 2014 games, which will be held from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4 in Colorado, he said.

“Nothing has stopped me,” Lynch said. “I’m one of those people that, if you tell me you’re going to limit me, I’m like ‘oh really?’ One motto I really like is ‘prove everyone wrong and be victorious.’ It’s been an epic journey for me.”


Bits ‘n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.