After motorcycle accident, Dundalk airman goes from walk to run to dash

Three years ago, Senior Airman Gideon Connelly decided to have his left leg amputated below the knee.

On Thursday, Connelly ran the 200-meter dash in 29.4 seconds.

The 25-year-old Dundalk resident was one of 200-plus participants to compete in last week's Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, an adaptive-sports competition founded in 2010 for wounded or ill service members and veterans like Connelly, whose recovery from a 2011 motorcycle accident trumps anything he has done in the wake of it.

"It's great watching these wounded warriors get together to compete for all these medals," Connelly said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

In September 2011, four months after the accident that left his left leg seriously damaged, Connelly's doctors gave him a choice: Keep the leg and lead a limited life, or have it replaced and start on a new path.

He chose the prosthesis. After rehabilitating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Connelly, who currently serves at the 175th Maintenance Squadron in the city, was walking again. Soon, he was running.

It wasn't long before he heard about the Warrior Games. Growing up in Havre de Grace, he attended Aberdeen, where he competed in track and field. Even after he joined the Air National Guard in 2008 as an aircraft mechanic, he remained fiercely competitive: He still loved sprinting, and now wanted to become a bodybuilder.

So the Army's and Air Force's Warrior Games trials, which earlier this year determined who would qualify for the event, were a natural outlet. More than 200 service members compete annually in the Warrior Games, and the participants comprise five U.S. teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy/Coast Guard and Special Operations. The teams compete in seven sports: archery, cycling, shooting, sitting-volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball.

"I pushed my hardest during the trials," Connelly said. "It's not only about your physical abilities; it's how you get along with other teammates."

After qualifying, Connelly traveled to the U.S. Olympic Training Center and U.S. Air Force Academy for the competition, which ran from last Sunday to Saturday. On Thursday, in his first-ever Warrior Games events, Connelly finished third in the 200-meter dash, fourth in the 100, sixth in shot put and seventh in discus.

He's currently training to be a part of the U.S. track-and-field team for the 2016 Paralympic Games. He also hopes to get a bachelor's degree in nutrition, health sciences or sports medicine.

"I just want to get through the next couple years of training and see how much better I can get," he said of his track-and-field career.

Connelly has considered competing in other adaptive sports at next year's Warrior Games. He's played sitting-volleyball before, but it wasn't for him. Next year, he said, he might swim.

After all Connelly has accomplished since his accident, no sport seems out of the realm of possibility.

jafox@baltsun.com

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