Monica Southall wins track and field gold medals in discus and shot put
Retired Sgt. Monica Y. Southall is working on her goal of finding missing people. But first, she had to find herself.
In 2009, Southall was riding in a mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, near Forward Operating Base Shank in Afghanistan, when ordnance from an air strike landed too close.
She fell off the MRAP, injuring her knees, shoulders and spinal cord.
She also suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe depression.
Throughout her hospitalization and before the start of her recovery process, she no longer wanted to be around people, she said. She just wanted to be left alone.
However, fellow soldiers and health-care support staff refused to give up on her.
"They taught me the coping skills I needed and listened to me as I expressed my feelings," she said, adding that her family was also there for her.
Although the recovery process was painful, she said she got through it with her network of support.
In 2010, that network of support suddenly broadened as she entered the Warrior Games competition for wounded warriors like herself.
Suddenly she had a lot of new friends who’d been through similar tough times, she said. They talked, got encouragement from the coaching staff and focused on winning and helping each other succeed.
Southall competed in seated shot put that year and earned a gold medal.
Last year she returned to the games and this time her recovery improved enough to enable her to compete in standing shot put.
She took gold again.
She also earned first place in sitting volleyball that year, adding to her collection of medals.
On May 14, she entered the discus throwing competition of Warrior Games 2013, held at the Air Force Academy here.
Watching her and cheering her on from the sidelines this year was her mother, Barbara Southall, and aunt, Mary Ward.
After congratulating her fellow teammates, Southall headed straight for her mom, who gave her a big hug.
"Hi sweetie, I’m so proud of you," her mom said.
"I’ve never thrown so far," she replied, still hugging her mom.
"I was so nervous waiting for the last throw." Six throws are required of each athlete.
"Sasha has been missing you," her mom said, as she left to receive her medal.
Sasha is Southall’s "very friendly" pit-lab mix.
"We adopted her from a shelter, so I guess you could say we saved the dog’s life," she said.
Sasha and Southall had both suffered, but helped each other through the recovery process.
"I don’t know what I’d do without her," she added.
Southall has stayed in contact on Facebook with fellow soldiers and warrior athletes throughout the years since the first game in 2010. She said she’ll continue those friendships.
Future plans, however, may prevent her from returning to the games as she expects to be very busy.
On July 20 this year, she graduates from the University of Phoenix with a master’s degree in criminal justice. She’ll then study for her private investigator license at her home in Richmond, Va.
"My goal in life, besides helping other wounded warriors, is to find missing people," she said, admitting to watching a lot of T.V. shows on that topic.
"I’d like to find those people and bring them home to their families."
Southall, with the help of others, has finally made it home.