A year after he ended treatment for an acute form of cancer that should have killed him, Army Sgt. Fred Prince received more good news. He was one 50 soldiers selected to compete in a sporting event for ill and injured service members.
Prince is one of two soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord invited to compete against athletes from other service branches at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The event begins Monday and runs through May 5.
Prince, 35, and Staff Sgt. Max Hasson, 42, will represent the base. Prince qualified in air rifle and archery. Hasson qualified for air rifle, handcycling and three swimming events.
The two are assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Lewis-McChord, where soldiers receive treatment for long-term injury or illness until they can rejoin their unit or be medically discharged from the Army.
Although commonly associated with soldiers wounded in combat, 86 percent of the 475 soldiers assigned to Lewis-McChord’s warrior battalion are recovering from injuries or illnesses sustained away from the battlefield, a spokeswoman said.
The men said they were honored to be in the company of other soldiers who have overcome obstacles to compete at a high level.
“It’s moving to see them competing,” said Hasson, a member of the Utah National Guard who severely injured his right knee during physical training while deployed to Egypt in April 2011. “When we’re there, we may be competing against each other, but the camaraderie is just so tight.”
In recent years, the Army has embraced adaptive sports, assisting soldiers’ recovery and boosting their morale. The Warrior Games is a capstone to this initiative.
It is an opportunity Prince shouldn’t have had.
Three weeks after re-enlisting, Prince was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia in February 2011. Doctors told him the type of cancer is fatal within six weeks if left untreated. Prince had begun exhibiting symptoms six months earlier.
There was more bad news: Doctors advised him the aggressive course of treatment to rid him of the cancer could also kill him.
The treatment was successful; the cancer is in remission. But Prince, an infantryman who had been assigned to a Hawaii-based combat brigade, was left so weak he couldn’t care for himself without assistance.
Driven to return to active duty, Prince committed to rebuild his ravaged body. Three months after ending his treatment in March 2011, Prince ran a half-marathon. He took advantage of numerous adaptive sports programs offered at Lewis-McChord to build his strength.
He discovered a high aptitude for shooting air rifles, where competitors try to hit a bull’s-eye roughly the size of a nail’s head from 20 meters away.
“It was a very rough period but it worked out very well,” Prince said while taking a break from training last week. “I’ve had a lot of support.”
Hasson, who swam competitively in high school and college, was devastated following surgery to repair the complete tear to a knee ligament in October 2011.
“I’ve been active for all of my life so it was hard not being able to do anything,” said Hasson, a preventive medicine specialist.
His physical therapist reprimanded him often for pushing too hard and risking re-injuring his knee or jeopardizing a full recovery.
He recalled a friend in Utah who was left a paraplegic after a car crash. She went on to compete in the Boston Marathon using a handcycle.
“If she can do it, I know I can do it,” he recalled thinking.
He handcycles between 60 and 80 miles a week and swims four or five hours a week to train.
He is on track to leave the unit when he returns from Colorado. Several opportunities have lined up, and Hasson said he’ll put in his name to be the cycling coach for next year’s Army team.
A big motivation has been his 9-year-old daughter, who has taken up her father’s interest in cycling. He hasn’t seen his daughter since Christmas and looks forward to having her and his wife cheer from the stands.
“She’s really excited about it,” he said.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390