COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Typically talkative and outgoing, Justin Widhalm was quiet and reserved, searching for answers after an awful tour of duty in Iraq ended his Army career and wrecked his body.
"I never wanted to touch a gun again," said Widhalm, a Fort Carson soldier who suffered traumatic brain injury from roadside bombs in March 2006 and a fractured back, broken feet and dislocated knees in a helicopter accident four months later.
Now Widhalm can't put his gun down, addicted to competitive shooting through the U.S. Paralympic military program, a U.S. Olympic Committee initiative in which disabled war veterans stay active in their favorite sports and transition to civilian life.
More than 30 injured service members -- sharpening their skills in archery, cycling, judo, shooting, swimming and track and field -- began training Thursday in Colorado Springs. They'll compete in the State Games of America, which run through Sunday.
A former sniper, Widhalm, 31, initially struggled in 50-meter small bore and 10-meter air rifle, not used to shooting with gloves and taking aim at stationary targets. Some lessons in the Paralympic military program refined his approach.
Widhalm said the program "isn't just about finding the next Paralympian. It's about getting people to compete, to get outdoors, to work out, to be healthy. ... It really reaches into you, and you find out what you're made of."