Wounded Mesa vet finds new focus on competition

by Kristena Hansen

Apr. 24, 2009 11:32 AM
The Arizona Republic

In 2004, Sgt. Mark Schrand of Mesa began his 18-month tour in Iraq at Camp Cedar, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Nearly six months after he arrived, his stay was suddenly cut short.

On May 29, Schrand, now 38, was riding in the back of an armored truck when a roadside bomb sent a scorching piece of scrap metal, about the size of a dime, flying his way.

It burned through his goggles, stabbing him directly in the left eye.

"I realized a sharp, stinging pain," said Schrand, who briefly blacked out. "And the next thing I know, I'm getting up off the ground of the floor of the truck."

Now blind in that eye and with the right side's vision slowly fading, the father of two young sons is also left with memory loss and a speech impairment from the impact. He also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and must go to counseling and doctors' appointments at least twice a week for the rest of his life.

But Schrand has no regrets. In fact, he wishes he could go back.

"I feel like I never finished what I started," he said. "I feel kind of robbed of my time."

But determined not to dwell on the past or be controlled by his injuries, Schrand began focusing on an old hobby: archery.

Unable to return to his job at Boeing Helicopter in Mesa, he's been practicing nearly every day for the past few years. This weekend, he's competing against other disable vets and athletes in the 19th annual Desert Challenge Games in Mesa and Phoenix, sponsored by Arizona Disabled Sports.

Schrand said he's excited to compete, but he admits to being nervous about being around a crowd of people, a symptom of his PTSD.

"That's going to be a challenge," he said. "I'm constantly looking over my shoulder."

But still, he said he wants to go as far as he can with the sport, so this summer he's also taking part in a competition through the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, and hopes to make it to the Paralympic Games someday.

But regardless if he loses total sight, his goals will stay the same, he said.

"I support my husband in whatever he wants to do," said Bonnie Schrand, 39, Mark's wife of 11 years. "If he wants to go sell hot dogs on the corner, I'll go buy him a hot dog cart."

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 568,000 veterans were living in Arizona as of July 2008. That number is growing as more soldiers return from war, creating a greater need for programs geared toward wounded and disabled vets.

Mark also recently started counseling other vets as they adjust to normal life, something he wishes was available to him in the beginning. "Don't give up, it's not worth it," he said. "There's so much more

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