Posted September 6, 2016
Retired Sergeant Mike Wishnia got to compete this summer in Rio at the Paralympic Games and he is the two-time national champion for the F57 shotput and currently ranked second in the world. Prior to last year, the Olympics were never on his radar–in fact, up until two years ago, he’d never so much as touched a shotput.
Mike served three tours in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, then three years later returned to Afghanistan, where he was injured in a firefight and ultimately lost the use of his left leg and was left with minimal use of his right leg. While recovering at the Wounded Warrior Battalion, he participated in the Warrior Athletic Recovery program, spending three days in physical therapy and two days in a variety of sports. At first, Mike concentrated on archery, shooting, and a little swimming: “I was always in the weight room, but hadn’t gotten into track and field yet. I grew up playing baseball and football, but I never threw a shotput in my life.”
When Mike finally got into track and field, he found that he excelled at both shotput and discus—so much so that just a month later, he was trying out for the 2014 Warrior Games. He made the Marine team and went on to win the gold at the Games.
While at Wounded Warrior Battalion, Mike connected with the Semper Fi Fund for the first time and his case manager suggested he sign up for Team Semper Fi (TSF) to continue his recovery through sport.
In early June 2014, Mike participated in his first TSF event, the Endeavor Games, from then on, “I was part of the team.” He performed so well there that a TSF manager convinced him to sign up for the national championship later that month. No one was sure he’d even qualify, but instead he far exceeded all expectations and won both shotput and discus.
From there, it’s been a whirlwind of training and competition to qualify for Team USA and Rio – and the Semper Fi Fund has been with him every step of the way.
Semper Fi Fund has provided Mike with two competition and training chairs for his seated events, plus “every shotput, every disc, and for every major competition.” He continues, “on top of everything else Semper Fi Fund is bringing my mom, dad, brother and wife to Rio to cheer me on!”
The journey toward Olympic gold has been remarkable for Mike, transforming his life in ways he could never have imagined. After his injury, “I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do anything I previously envisioned; I didn’t know where to go in life. Being able to train and compete has completely changed my life. I train six days a week, give or take 4-6 hours per day, and it keeps me going. It opens up my eyes to what’s going on around me.”
Getting involved with the Paralympics was also impactful in unexpected ways: “it opened up my eyes to other things outside myself, to others who have issues – both military and civilians. Kids born with disabilities, cancer… it brings another world in there.”
Recovery through sport has also inspired Mike to give back by helping others. When he’s not training, you’ll often find Mike volunteering his time coaching athletes in wheelchair track and field. When asked what’s next after Rio, Mike’s direction is clear. “I want to get involved in helping others, opening up someone else’s life because mine was opened up to this—through track and field or through anything.”