Hector Amezcua / Bee file, 2012

Vietnam-era veteran Angela Madsen talks to Afghanistan vet Noah Bailey in June about how getting involved in sports can help motivate them to live with disabilities.

Op Images: A soldier seeking his way finds a comrade in arms

Published: Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 9A
Last Modified: Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 - 5:30 pm

Over the last year or so, I've written a series of stories for our Sunday California Forum section on what veterans are up against in California and across the country.

If there's one moment that's stayed with me, it came while working on a piece about the increasing use of sports to help heal soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the lunch break of an event at Pannell Community Center in south Sacramento, I tried to talk to Noah Bailey about how he lost his legs to a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan. He wasn't going there.

But soon after, he opened up to Angela Madsen, a Vietnam War vet who is paralyzed from the waist down and has become an accomplished disabled athlete. At the London Paralympics later in the summer, she won a bronze medal in the shotput with a personal best.

On that blazing hot June afternoon, as Madsen taught Bailey how to throw the shotput while strapped into a specially designed chair, he talked about the struggles he's had and his hopes that sports could help him overcome them.

It was plain to see the camaraderie that spanned their differences in age and circumstances. It was one of those genuine moments you hope for as a journalist. You want to be close enough to observe – but not so near that you influence what happens.

As we finally withdraw from Afghanistan – America's longest war – the servicemen and women who come home are going to face many, many challenges.

Seeing Bailey and Madsen together gave me hope that with the help of older generations of veterans, our newest veterans will be all right.

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