Written by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers
Focus on the breath. Hold it … let out half … slow. Squeeze the trigger. The shot races across the expanse and finds its mark. Focus on the breath. Keep it steady. Head turns to take in fresh air, hands slice the surface of the water. Keep breathing.
Breathing and focus recently led Krissy Esget to a gold medal in shooting and several personal bests in swimming while at the Navy Coast Guard Pacific Trials on Oahu in Hawaii. It’s a far cry from where she was five years ago when her breathing almost stopped after she was struck by a drunk driver and awoke in a hospital bed.
Esget suffered a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, cognitive issues, insomnia and aphasia, and damage to her shoulder and right knee. She spent four months in the hospital and had to relearn many things including walking and talking – it became her life.
But it was her brain injury that was the most significant. She doesn’t have a major physical injury you can see, she’s not missing a limb and she bears no visible scars. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there below the surface.
At the time of the incident, Esget was a 3rd class petty officer in the Coast Guard. Because of her injury she was unable to re-enlist and was medically retired from the service in 2012.
Speaking clearly, forming words and sentences and reading has become easier, but takes more work for Esget than most people. It caused her anxiety when dealing with people who didn’t know her story because they didn’t understand why she struggled.
“I felt trapped in my own mind because of the traumatic brain injury I suffered and the PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] that resulted,” said Esget.
With limited ability to communicate and move, isolation crept in.
Esget credits Navy Wounded Warrior Safe Harbor (NWW) with saving her life. The organization coordinates non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill, and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen. The program provides individually tailored help to optimize the success of the wounded warrior’s recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration activities. NWW helps Sailors and Coast Guardsmen return to duty, but if that’s not possible, the program works collaboratively with federal agencies and state and local organizations to ease wounded warriors back into their communities.
“I was in a really bad place in my life,” Esget said. “Navy Safe Harbor introduced me to adaptive camps. I was suddenly surrounded by people who understood, people who didn’t judge, people who had lost something too; gone through difficulties and learned or were learning to live again.”
“I felt mentally and physically sane. I wasn’t alone anymore. My teammates have helped me so much.”
Since that first camp, Esget’s desire and motivation have propelled her to achieve so much more. She first participated in the Department of Defense Warrior Games in 2015, competing in shooting and swimming events. She placed fourth during the finals in a rifle competition and placed fifth in a women’s 100-meter freestyle swimming race.
Now she’s back competing in more ways than one. She is the only Coast Guardsman to participate in the Navy Coast Guard Team’s Pacific Trials for the 2016 Warrior Games. She took first place in shooting and achieved her personal bests in swimming, shaving 17 seconds off her 100-meter freestyle, 4 seconds off her 50-meter backstroke and 7 seconds off her 50-meter freestyle times.
She also participated in sitting volleyball where, according to the rules, a player must keep their bottom on the floor at all times.
The announcement of the final team for the Warrior Games is still being determined, but for now Esget is focusing on the Invictus Games.
In 2014, Prince Harry started the Invictus Games in London to raise awareness for the challenges, rehabilitation and success of tens of thousands of wounded veterans worldwide dealing with injuries.
At a recent event in Washington D.C., where Canada was announced as the 2017 host of the Invictus Games, Esget said, “I am who I am now because I’m part of a team that has changed my life. They have taught me that I am injured but not broken. I’ve learned to stay strong, because being strong is the only choice I have.”
Esget will be the first female Coast Guardsman to participate in the Invictus Games. Fifteen nations are invited to participate in the 2016 Games, from May 8-12 in Orlando, Florida. More than 500 military competitors will take part in 10 sporting events. Esget will be swimming.
“I’m honored to represent our country in the Invictus Games and the Coast Guard in both the Wounded Warrior Trials and the Invictus Games,” she said.
In the meantime she attends the gym three to four times a week and swims once or twice a week, but Esget is more than an athlete. She’s a daughter, military brat, a sister, a wife, a mother, a veteran, a teammate, an EMT and a survivor. Since her accident she achieved her emergency medical technician license and serves as a critical incident stress management peer for the fire and rescue squad in Ridgeway, Virginia, continuing her service to others.
“The reading was challenging and the written test was really hard, but I had a lot of support and encouragement,” said Esget.
Esget also credits her husband, a former Marine, with helping her get through life’s trials. They were married a little over a month when her accident occurred.
“My husband, Richard, is a big support,” said Esget. “He messaged me after learning of my results in the trials and said I was truly an inspiration and I make him want to try harder every time he’s told he can’t do something. He signed it love your best friend. He’s put up with me in my hard times and I really thank him for being there,”
Esget wants to get her story out to reach others who may be struggling as she was.
“No matter what you go through you are never alone,” Esget said. “We all struggle but someone is out there who wants to see you live and succeed. Someone you may not even know. Keep breathing.”