A South Korean soldier who lost his legs four years ago after stepping on a landmine has transformed his life into one of an athlete — and he is hoping to make his mark at the upcoming Paralympic Games.
Ha Jae-hun was only a 21-year-old staff sergeant when he stepped on a landmine while walking inside the DMZ, a piece of land along the Korean Peninsula that separates North and South Korea, according to Reuters.
At the time, the news outlet reports, Ha was leading an early morning patrol and was the first to venture through an entry gate that led to the area where the landmine was hidden.
The resulting explosion from the triggered bomb left both of Ha’s legs severely damaged, and he would later have both limbs amputated. Ha then picked up the sport of rowing while undergoing rehabilitation and now hopes to win at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. Training on the water has given the former soldier a sense of peace after suffering the traumatic experience.
“I just felt so relaxed when I went out on the water in a boat for the first time,” Ha — who now uses prosthetics legs — told Reuters.
“I have to be careful and stay focused on the river, which doesn’t allow for other thoughts and keeps me at ease,” he added.
After leaving the army earlier this year, Ha and his rowing team have won multiple races, nationally and across the globe. On Thursday, Ha earned gold at a national para-sports competition and bested the record by 30 seconds.
“It was my first race last year,” Ha told Reuters. “I had no skills, nothing but physical power, but I won. It was absolutely thrilling, I was like, ‘This is it.’ “
Adaptive sports have proven to be an important part of helping veterans find purpose and healing after experiencing trauma.
Being around other people with impairments — such as in the Paralympics or the international Invictus Games — can build confidence, and a sense of acceptance, around their disability, the University of Pittsburgh says in its 2015 report “Adaptive Sports: Advances in Technology and Benefits to Rehabilitation and Reintegration.”
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In the United States, there are about 4 million veterans who have a disability connected to their time in the service. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, adaptive sports can be used as part of the healing process for injured or disabled veterans.
“This isn’t something to be ashamed of,” Ha told Reuters of wearing his prosthetics.
“I don’t despair, I just don’t think,” he said. “I’m as simple as that.”