Sualauvi Tuimalealiifano, or Sua for short, was deployed to Afghanistan when he suffered an injury from a fall he took on July 2, 2007. The retired U.S. Army Sergeant First Class fell out of bed, which was four feet high, hit his head on a table and fractured his neck resulting in a C5-C6 spinal cord injury as well as traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
What was discovered during his medical treatment is the fact that he had a fractured vertebrae prior to that incident from a previous military engagement, a fire fight. “I didn’t think much of it then,” Sua said about the prior injury at the time. “Over there, we are all banged up and bruised. Sometimes you don’t know which pain is greater than another.” But it was a result of the previous injury that precipitated the impact of the latter one.
He has fully immersed himself in adaptive sports, including sailing in St. Petersburg, Florida, the past three years as well as taken up handcycling. “Adaptive sports has allowed me to network with other quadriplegics. I have found the camaraderie and competitive rivalry of adaptive sports reminiscent of the military atmosphere.”
The Florida resident first joined Disabled Sports USA’s Warfighter Sports program in 2016 at Ski Spec in Breckenridge, Colorado. He had skied in Aspen before, but had only skied a few times. “This was my first time try a bi-ski,” he said. The whole experience was very moving, according to Sua. “Seeing how everyone gives back to the injured, veterans and non-veterans, as well as emerging athletes, was very heartfelt.”
Sua joined the U.S. Army in 1997 and served as a 38 Bravo (Civil Affairs Specialist). Prior to going over to Afghanistan, he was deployed to Iraq via Kuwait back in 2003-04. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his service.
In October 2018, Sua will once again participate in the annual Invictus Games, where 550 wounded, ill, and injured service men and women from 18 allied nations will compete in sporting activities in Sydney, Australia. This will be his second Invictus Games, as he also competed at the 2016 event in Orlando where he was part of USA’s Wheelchair Rugby Team (which won the gold medal).
This year, he will again compete in ruby, as well as shotput, discus, and sailing. He also looks forward to competing at the Warrior Games in 2019, as it will be held in nearby Tampa. But it has been a difficult year for him. “I have been in the hospital more this year than in the past.”