Warriors Way: A Cadet's Journey

  • Published
  • By Leslie Finstein
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Gotta, Gotta, Gotta win! Can't Stop! Won't Stop! Air Force!

This is the rallying cry of the Air Force Wounded Warrior wheelchair basketball team. And for Ohio University ROTC Cadet Matthew Pirrello, age 20, it describes his journey over the last year to overcome an injury that changed his life.

In June 2010, the Dayton, Ohio native was attending a summer parachute training program at the Air Force Academy when, while executing a parachute jump, he had an accident that resulted in the loss of his right leg above the knee and a double compound fracture in his left leg.

Since that time, he has been in San Antonio at the Center for the Intrepid and Brooke Army Medical Center, healing and learning to walk again. It was during recovery that he learned about the Warrior Games.

The Warrior Games is a weeklong event that pits teams of wounded warriors from each branch of the military against each other in a variety of sports. U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Department of Defense and USO are all supporting the Warrior Games, now in its second year.

"I heard about it from Lieutenant Ryan Mcguire, he competed last year," Pirrello said. "And since I got injured at the Academy and he was an Academy grad, and we were both at the Center for the Intrepid, he came up and visited me when I was in the hospital there and said I should really make this my goal to come back and be able to compete at the Warrior Games next year."

So instead of school this past year, Pirrello worked on his recovery, getting out of a wheelchair, learning how to walk on his new prosthetic leg, and preparing for the games.

"The last year has been crazy," Pirrello said. "You just have to go with the flow when things change like this."

The Air Force teams for the games have been holding practice sessions at the Academy and this is only the second time that Pirrello has been there since the accident last June. His first visit was with his family last fall for the Air Force vs. Navy football game.

"I was still in a wheelchair then and I went out and visited the airfield," he said. "I'm glad I did that and that this is not my first time being back here. I'm a little more comfortable being here now than I was the first time."

That weekend, he met the rescue crews that saved his life and he and his family formed a friendship with Lt. Col. Michael Love, commander of the 98th Flying Training Squadron. Pirrello and his family plan to see those people and Colonel Love again while they are here for the Warrior Games.

Meanwhile, Pirrello is enjoying his experience with the other wounded warriors as they prepare for the games.

"Being here with other people who have been injured, and with everyone knowing what it's like to be in the hospital and deal with a lot of pain, it feels good to have that camaraderie with the team," he explained.

Pirrello hopes to return to Ohio University this fall to resume ROTC and work on his studies in economics and management.

As for his future with the Air Force, despite his injuries Pirrello plans on returning to his ROTC unit and getting his commission.

"It was my goal to get my ROTC scholarship and get my commission and I think getting injured shouldn't get in the way of that," Pirrello explained. "Joining the Air Force has been my goal since I was little."

He feels his experience over the last year will certainly contribute to his career with the Air Force and within his ROTC unit.

"For me being an ROTC cadet, for me to see this side of the military is definitely not an opportunity many people get," Pirrello said. "One day you are at school, doing your regular ROTC stuff, and then you are just thrown in to the deep end."

Whatever his future holds, right now Pirrello's focus is on the games.

"I'm just looking forward to competing and doing my best out there," he said.

In addition to wheelchair basketball, Pirrello will compete for Air Force on the seated volleyball team and in swimming for the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events.

For a complete schedule of Warrior Game events, click here.