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Marked by Persistence: Corporal Ray Hennagir’s Road to the Paralympics

The military was a large part of Ray Hennagir’s life from a young age. His parents served, and at just seventeen he decided to follow in their footsteps by joining the United States Marine Corps in 2004 as a combat engineer.

Three years after joining the Marines, Corporal Hennagir served with Combat Engineers in Zaidon, Iraq—securing the perimeter of military bases by sweeping for explosives. On June 16, 2007, during one of his sweeps, Ray stepped on an IED that claimed both of his legs above the knee and four fingers on his left hand. Soon after, he was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to undergo multiple surgeries and lengthy physical rehabilitation. His introduction to Semper Fi & America’s Fund came when he was still in the hospital. The Fund immediately stepped in with support for his mother and stepfather to stay at Ray’s bedside in addition to financial assistance for a wheelchair accessible van, making it possible for Ray to be present when his unit returned from Afghanistan.

Throughout his physical therapy, Ray’s recreational therapist suggested he try wheelchair basketball and other sports to get him out of his room. Although he was initially uninterested, he decided to give sports a try to “appease” his therapist. He immediately fell in love with wheelchair basketball and continued to play every week. “It kind of brought me back to being a kid again, which is more about having fun,” Ray said. Soon, Ray and a group of fellow veterans formed the Walter Reed Basketball Team. They played in tournaments across the country and even gained the recognition of then-President Barack Obama.

Ray became interested in competing in Paralympic games, so when the 2013 Warrior Games came around, Ray prepared to compete in wheelchair basketball, volleyball, and swimming. Ray’s case manager at The Fund, Janine, sent him a top-of-the-line basketball chair. “I didn’t even have to ask,” Ray said. “She knows what I need before I do.” He competed in the 2010, 2013, and 2015 Warrior Games, winning four gold medals—two for wheelchair basketball and two for sitting volleyball. Ray ended up playing wheelchair basketball for Orlando Magic Wheels, based in Florida, and the Miami Valley Raptors in Fairborn, Ohio. He also used his passion for the sport and inspired others by coaching youth wheelchair basketball leagues.

After years of playing basketball, Ray took his athletic skills to another level. Team USA’s Wheelchair Rugby coach had been following Ray’s basketball journey and thought he would be a good fit for rugby. Ray found he had a natural talent for the sport. Having played hockey as a kid, he loved physicality of it, and in January of 2019, he began playing rugby for Team USA—going on to help them win gold to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympic Games. He was officially selected to represent the United States on Team USA’s Wheelchair Rugby team in December of 2019.

After he made the team, he mentioned to Janine that specific equipment would be a great help in his training. Within a week, the equipment arrived at his door.  “The Fund has always done whatever they could to help me,” Ray said, “Nothing I’ve asked for has been too great.”

Outside of his interest in sports, Ray wanted to attend school for audio broadcasting. The Fund’s Education and Career Assistance Program found a school pathway that not only fit Ray’s interests but also was covered by the GI bill. “They directed me to a better program than any I had found on my own,” Ray said.

The Fund has cherished being a part of Ray’s journey. Please join us in cheering on Ray and all the Semper Fi & America’s Fund veteran Paralympic athletes as they represent the United States in the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games!