HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
The sun rises over Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, warming it with a soft glow. The red track illuminates as the warm rays strike across it. The area is brought to life, waking from a blissful slumber.
But, a metal rattle cuts through the frigid silence. The intensity grows louder as a wheelchair rockets across the track. While the sun is just awakening, Master Sgt. Lisa Goad has been stirring in the cold morning darkness, battling her personal barriers. A bead of sweat slowly trails down her sculpted cheek as she finishes her lap, in preparation for the 2018 Warrior Games.
A path for recovery
Goad, a Warrior Games athlete, has overcome many obstacles in her training, but ultimately her past experience has led her here.
In 2008, Goad was sexually assaulted by her then-fiancé. The assault left her hip injured, and in 2013, she received her first surgery. Since then, she’s had three more surgeries in an effort to repair the damage.
The initial assault, repeated surgeries and physical demands of her career as a Security Forces member left Goad with lower body limitations. While she is able to walk, certain exercises like running and upright cycling have the potential to cause further injury.
But, not all of Goad’s injuries are visible. She also battles Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety. With the support of her husband and two daughters, Goad will never stop fighting.
“My anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are not going to change me or define me,” said Goad. “I’m going to get through it.”
In 2016, she joined the Air Force Wounded Warrior program, and was introduced to adaptive sports as a form of emotional and physical recovery.
“The more that I exercised, the better that my body and my injuries felt,” said Goad. “I didn’t have to be a couch potato for the rest of my life.”
The Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, paired with her warrior spirit and supportive family, provided her with a way ahead.
“I originally thought I couldn’t do (the adaptive sports),” said Goad. “Then, I started to use the chair, and realized I could still race and feel that wind in my face. My drive was re-ignited immediately.”
In wheelchair racing, athletes sit with their feet dangling in front or folded underneath them. Instead of using their legs, they use their arms to propel the chair forward.
But, Goad is training for more than just track and field.
“The hand cycle is so gratifying, you’re pushing this bike with your hands and doing something so unique,” said Goad. “Every single time I get in the bike my adrenaline goes through the roof. I can’t believe I’m doing this; I can’t believe I’m cycling and using just my upper body. I love that sport for sure.”
Hand-cycling is another adaptive sport that allows athletes with lower body restrictions to exercise and compete. The chair features handles that turn and propel the bike forward, while the athlete’s legs are motionless in front of them.
Not all of Goad’s events ignite her competitive drive, but like a true warrior, she never quits.
“I have a really hard time in the pool with my anxiety,” said Goad. “When I’m in the pool face down I’m afraid someone is going to come up behind me and attack me. That was a challenge I needed to keep attacking.”
Getting to the games
In early 2018, she traveled to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to compete in the the 2018 Warrior Games Trials. Alongside more than 150 fellow warriors, Goad raced, biked and swam in hopes of making the Air Force team.
During a closing ceremony, the 40 names of the Air Force team members were announced. The tension in the room could be cut with a knife, as an announcer listed them in alphabetical order.
“Once they started saying all of the F’s, I held my breath,” said Goad. “Then, I just didn’t believe it.”
She had made the team.
“I was excited, but my husband was way more excited than I was,” said Goad. “He jumped out of his chair and was cheering.”
Goad’s training is extensive and exhausting. While her determined spirit keeps her head in the game, she attributes much of her success to her family.
“There’s no way I would be able to have this much training without them by my side,” said Goad. “My husband works night shift, and has pretty much given up his sleep since trials in order for me to train for Warrior Games.”
Her husband, Tech. Sgt. Justin Goad, is a fellow Air Force Security Forces member, and balances a demanding work schedule with domestic life.
Her 6-year old daughter, Ella, provides endless moral support and cheers of admiration.
“She just wants to be there to cheer for her mommy,” said Goad. “On the long weekends when my husband works, and it’s just me and her, she comes to training with me, she comes to the gym with me and works out side by side with me as best as she can.”
Going for gold
All of Goad’s hard work, determination and sacrifices paid off when she competed in the Warrior Games at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from June 1 to 9, 2018.
The sun lit up a backdrop of rolling green hills while athletes and their family members converged on the academy track for the first days of competition.
“I had practiced for the longer (track) races, but I didn’t know where I stood,” said Goad. “I just gave everything that I had, and I tried not to think about anyone else on the track.”
Once again, her wheelchair rounded the track letting out a soft and rhythmic rattle. Goad’s arms feverously propelled her chair forward as she reached the finish line. Her purple helmet reflected the sun’s intense glow, as she battled the heat of the Colorado summer.
Her husband and daughters leaped to their feet and cheered at the top of their lungs. They waved posters with her name, the glittered text glistened in the sun. The posters were adorned with Wonder Woman stickers, a symbol of her warrior spirit.
“In all 5 races, I beat my personal records,” said Goad. “Every time I raced and beat my time, it drove me to push myself even harder. I just tried to focus, think about myself and trust my training.”
Goad’s focus paid off. She took home two bronze medals and three silver medals that day, placing in every race she competed in.
But, track and field was only the beginning of Goad’s week of competitions.
A turn for the worst
The stage was set on another warm summer day. Athletes from all branches of the military, including the United Kingdom, Canadian and Australian militaries, gathered under large white tents preparing for the cycling competitions.
Racers rolled to the staging areas, patiently awaiting their turn to compete. Goad donned her purple helmet again. With her head in the game, she prepared for her first cycling race.
“The course was quite challenging,” said Goad. “It was more than I expected. I came down that first hill, doing about 30 mph, and I had practiced the turn (on the course) before, but I turned my head the wrong way.”
In a split second, she lost control.
“I toppled over sideways a couple of times and landed on my arms, and hit my whole left side and scraped my whole body,” said Goad. “My chain was off the front and rear gear, and two volunteers helped me get back upright. The first guy was really funny and said, ‘I’m here to help you but I have no idea what I’m doing.’ They listened really intently, and kept working the chain until they fixed it.”
She was ready to race. She only took a second to assess her bodily damage.
“I looked at my leg and realized I had cut my racing shorts, and I was bleeding,” said Goad. “Nothing was broken, so I pulled my shorts down and kept on racing. I thought that I was so far behind the other racers in my category (after the crash). I found out at the end of the race that I was just a few seconds behind (the bronze medalist).”
She wasn’t about to let pain stand in her way.
“It wasn’t about a medal at that time, it was about finishing,” said Goad. “Hearing that I had managed to catch up to (the bronze medalist) kept my adrenaline going.”
After finishing her first race, Goad made her way to the medical tent. The Air Force team doctors buzzed around her, patching her up so she could get back into the game.
Her family didn’t see a wounded athlete. To them, Goad was a superhero.
“I used everything I learned from the first race,” said Goad. “I was more cautious and slower, I was afraid I would fall on a turn again. This is what I had practiced and trained for.”
During her second race, she made her way up the final hill. Determination streaked across her face as sweat ran down her furrowed brow, she grit her teeth through the pain.
She cycled past the crowd, her Wonder Woman socks a blur. Her husband leaped to his feet and ran alongside, screaming at the top of his lungs as she crossed the finish.
To him in that moment, there was no Diana Prince, Lisa was the only Wonder Woman he knew.
Once again, athletes gathered under the white tents impatiently awaiting the race results.
A smile stretched across Goad’s face, ear to ear, as the announcer yelled her name into the microphone.
Goad stretched her bandaged arms overhead, waving the Air Force flag. Her Wonder Woman socks covered part of her bloodied leg. Despite her crash and injuries, she took home the silver medal in her second race.
Despite the excitement of victory, the pain fought back. While she had finished her track and cycling competitions, she still had a day of swimming ahead.
“The whole next morning all I could think was that the coaches and doctors weren’t even going to let me swim,” said Goad. “It really messed with my head. I was here to be part of the team, and I thought that I was going to let everyone down.”
Just like every challenge Goad had faced before, she pushed through. Despite her injuries, she prepared for her final day of competition. She was scheduled to swim in two events that day.
“Everybody was saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re out here and doing this with your injuries. This is amazing,’” said Goad. “It fueled my energy to keep racing. The pain was pretty bad.”
She pushed through one personal barrier after another, her warrior spirit keeping her in the game. Her blue swim cap bobbed up and down as she gracefully glided through the pool. The cuts on her arms stung each time they entered the chlorine filled water. Her swimsuit, paired with tight bandages, slowly cut off the circulation in her legs.
Goad gave it her best, but did not medal in her first event.
She slowly made her way out of the pool and to the staging area. While the crowd’s cheers of jubilation roared through the high ceilings, she put on her Wonder Woman sandals feeling defeated.
Even worse, she reached her physical limit. Tears welled in her eyes as she told her coaches she couldn’t swim in her next event.
She rested and recovered, cheering from the sidelines. Goad watched as her fellow wounded warriors competed and pushed past their physical and mental barriers. She had considered throwing in the towel on the whole day of competition, but found out she was selected for the relay event. Just like before, she kept on pushing.
With her Wonder Woman sandals next to her chair, and her warrior spirit ignited, she told her coaches she wanted back in.
“(Our relay team) realized that the other teams were younger than us, our combined age was about twice their combined age,” said Goad. “We used that as a joke but also as a drive. We were going to go out there and do this and prove these young girls wrong.”
And, prove them wrong they did.
“We had a strategy set up that worked out perfect,” said Goad. “We brought home the bronze for the Air Force. It was such a fun race and a great way to close the day, and close competing for me.”
Exhausted and bandaged, Goad had battled adversity and won. Nothing would vanquish her warrior spirit.
The last week had not been easy. Despite facing a seemingly endless list of challenges, she never gave up.
“Every time you hit that challenge and decide to move forward you learn so much about yourself and how far you can push yourself,” said Goad. “I can’t believe how much I overcame, but then watching some of the other athletes have so many more challenges than I do makes me think I have nothing to complain about.”
Goad plans to compete in the 2019 Warrior Games trials, with the goal of making the 2019 Air Force team. With her warrior spirit ignited and her family by her side, this real-life Wonder Woman will never stop going for gold.
“I think the Warrior Games are really important -- not only for the athletes, but for showing the DoD and the world that you can overcome any challenge that’s in front of you,” said Goad. “We may be injured and ill, and we may not be able to do things the same way somebody else can. If we put our minds to it and our bodies to it, we really can overcome anything.”