An explosion blinded Staff Sgt. Aaron Hale in 2011 as he worked to disarm an explosive device while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, May 26, Hale and teammate Adam Popp will be in a canoe on the Nooksack River, competing with the EOD Warriors team in the 2013 Ski to Sea race.
EOD stands for Explosive Ordnance Disposal. During their military service, all seven members of the EOD Warriors team volunteered for the job of explosive ordnance disposal technician, disarming unexploded bombs and shells, as well as the explosive booby traps contrived by hostile forces. All seven paid a heavy price.
Kayaker Dustin Johns lost both legs serving with the Marine Corps in Afghanistan.
Cross-country skier Jeremiah Gorsuch lost a leg.
Downhill skier James Sides lost his right hand and left eye.
Runner Tim Colomer and mountain biker Robert Wester suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Road biker Tim Brown lost both legs and an arm.
Popp, who will be steering the canoe with Hale aboard, lost his right leg to an explosive device in Afghanistan. He played the key role in organizing the EOD Warriors team, recruiting other recovering veterans he met during rehab at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
Popp said athletic competitions like Ski to Sea are team-building events that help veterans get on with life after battlefield trauma and the months or even years of rehabilitation that follow.
"We're all in various stages and degrees of our recovery," Popp said. "We're finding a new life and a new normal and kind of pushing ourselves in that regard."
Richard Iverson of Skagit County is part of a team of volunteers helping to get the EOD Warriors team to Whatcom County from Walter Reed and other distant places for the race. Iverson is a member of Veterans Airlift Command, an organization of private pilots who provide transportation for veterans in need.
Others in the community also are pitching in to help. The Best Western Lakeway Inn is providing rooms, and other support is being donated.
"It's been kind of overwhelming," Popp said.
Iverson thinks the veterans are getting no more than their due.
"They deserve whatever it is we can do for them," he said. "These guys are fighting back and getting on with their lives like no one else."