National Veterans Wheelchair Games Athlete: Sharona Young
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Current location: Orlando, Florida
Military Branch/Years of Service: Navy/14
Years at NVWG: 2
2017 Events: boccia, shot put, bowling, table tennis, nine ball
Growing up, Sharona Young thought about going into the medical field or possibly working with computers. The youngest of five siblings and an honor roll student, she was a homebody who dreamed of travelling.
“When I was a senior I decided I wanted to see the world. I called every recruiter in the phone book and the Navy guys were the first to call me back. I didn’t even realize there was a difference between the branches!”
After boot camp in Illinois and training in Mississippi, Sharona served as the disbursing clerk aboard the USS Bataan in Norfolk, Virginia. On board, she found the cure for her wanderlust.
“I really enjoyed it, being out to sea. I got to travel a lot. We did a couple tours throughout the Mediterranean Sea. We went to countries like Greece, Spain, Italy, the Middle East, the Suez Canal, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Never once did she think about becoming an athlete, but being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her 30s changed all that.
“I was diagnosed in 2013 while I was working for the VA. I was recalled to active duty, stationed in England when I started having issues with my left leg and foot. I was on crutches from foot surgery when I started experiencing numbness in my hands and arms. At first the doctors thought I had a pinched nerve, but an MRI showed inflammation and lesions on my spinal cord and scarring on my brain.”
The diagnosis was a lot for both Sharona and her 11-year-old daughter, Taylor, to absorb. MS symptoms like fatigue, vision problems and difficulty walking effected Sharona’s ability to get up and go. They do still enjoy cycling together and Taylor is homeschooled by her mom, but even with literature and videos from the MS Society, seeing her mother in a wheelchair was a huge adjustment.
“MS is an invisible illness. People don’t understand why you’re in a wheelchair when you weren’t the last time they saw you. There are a lot of questions. And looks. They don’t see a visible scar, so they don’t understand.”
While Sharona was transitioning out of the Navy, one of her counselors suggested she try out for the Warrior Games. Having never played sports before—unless you count that semester of badminton in college!—she tried out for swimming, cycling and archery, and was accepted for both swimming and cycling.
“I fell in love with the challenge of it. MS is so unpredictable. It’s always changing. Adaptive sports gives me a reason to keep getting out and training and trying and pushing myself. It’s like therapy. It takes my mind off of stuff for a little bit and pushes me to achieve a goal. It gives me a chance to show Taylor that just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t get out and do sports and enjoy your life.”
Sharona got involved with the Orlando PVA after a Wounded Warrior suggested she look up her local chapter. She currently serves as the Secretary on their Board of Directors.
“They were pretty excited to see me. They don’t have a lot of females and I’m younger than the majority of our chapter.”
Participation in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games wasn’t far behind. Sharona was impressed by the diversity of veterans participating and the camaraderie she found in competition; something she’d love to share with newly injured vets considering participating.
“Don’t be afraid to try the Games. Don’t be afraid to get involved. Go for it, push yourself, have fun. More than anything, just enjoy it. Just come out, try it, have fun and learn something new.”