Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Veronica Ko’s deployments included Operation JOINT FORGE in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Operation JOINT GUARDIAN in Kosovo, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (Afghanistan), and several missions in Japan, Mongolia, China, Taiwan, and Thailand. So, a motorcycle accident on August 13, 2017 which resulted in an above knee amputation wasn’t going to stop her. Forty-five days after the amputation, she was hand-cycling with Disabled Sports USA in the Army 10 Miler. “I hadn’t gotten my socket yet,” she said.
During her nearly 21 years with the U.S. Army, Veronica completed three tours in South Korea, two tours in Germany, as well as stateside assignments at Fort Leonard Wood, MO; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon, GA; Fort Carson, CO; Fort Leavenworth, KS; Fort Shafter, HI; and Washington DC.
Veronica originally enlisted as a radio operator/maintainer but was recruited to work with the Criminal Investigation Command shortly after arriving to the unit at Fort Carson. She also participated in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program in TaeKwonDo. In 1995, she completed Officer Candidate School and served as a Signal Officer for several years before becoming a Northeast Asia Foreign Area Officer. With respect to her prestigious career, Veronica noted, “I particularly enjoyed my time assisting with the NATO training mission overseeing capacity development within Kabul’s Provincial Police as well as the outreach work I did delivering school supplies to several Afghan girl’s schools.” Ko retired from active duty in 2013 after a distinguished military career.
Prior to her injury, Veronica was very active. “I love anything and everything outdoors. Way I see it, everything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing!” She was an avid climber/backpacker. During the summer of 1990, she hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Virginia. Her noteworthy climbing achievements include 28 of Colorado’s 53 fourteeners (14,000+ feet in elevation), Mt. Seorak in Korea, Mt. Fiji in Japan, several peaks in the Dolomites and Switzerland, Kilimanjaro, Grand Canyon rim to rim, and a successful ascent to Everest Base Camp.
She also loves skiing (alpine, backcountry, cross-country), flying, scuba diving (rescue diver), paragliding, stand-up paddle boarding, running, biking (road and mountain), and swimming.
So it is no surprise that she has quickly picked up where she left off before her accident with adaptive sports. Hand-cycling the Army 10 Miler was like a big reunion for her. “You run into people from the past,” she said. “Completing the race gave me a hope that although I have lost a leg, I don’t have to lose the things I love to do, like races and other outdoor activities.”
Four months after the accident and two months after getting her first prosthetic leg, she joined Disabled Sports USA at the Ski Spectacular Event hosted in Breckenridge, Colorado. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” she said. “I was excited and frustrated with the mono-skiing experience. Then I tried Nordic and it allowed me to be more independent and closer to what normal used to be for me.”
Despite the loss of her left knee and lower leg, she was determined to return to skiing standing up on two skies and was provided with the opportunity to do so shortly after the Ski Spectacular. In January 2018, she joined the Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA and the official demo center of the Bartlett Tendon Knee. Not only was she back up on two skies, but she participated in their annual 100K Vertical Challenge. She has since joined other DSUSA chapters for skiing events as well.
In March 2018, Veronica signed up for the annual Bataan Memorial Death March, a grueling 26.2-miles of walking through the New Mexico Desert at White Sands Missile Range. She had previously completed the event back in 2002 (before the accident and amputation) “I was part of the first female team to complete the march in under seven hours. So, I had done it before. But this experience was just months after losing my leg and I hadn’t walked more than two miles with the Ottobock X3 knee up to that point.”
She had set out to do the honor march (shorter version) but decided to push further forward. “The X3 malfunctioned around the 8-mile mark, but I didn’t want to throw in the towel. I felt fine, but the leg started to free swing, which made going up and downhill quite difficult. At mile 19, my mind was strong, but my body was starting to say no. 13 hours later, my trustee SideStixs and some inspirational motivation from Kirk Bauer, the Disabled Sports USA Executive Director, I made it to mile 22. I regret not finishing the march, but it has given me a new goal. I am coming back next year with a non-microprocessor leg and smoking it.”
“The first time I did Bataan, I didn’t fully appreciate the spirit of the event. I was in the competitive mode. This time, hobbling along on one leg, I felt like I was able to relate and appreciate what the Bataan survivors went through in a more profound way. Moreover, it was validation that I can go back to doing everything I used to do as an able-bodied person.”
Veronica recently got her running blade and is looking forward to getting her water and cycling legs too. She plans to do her first triathlon before the end of summer. When it comes to adaptive sports, she believes in doing three things: First, set a goal. Second, define a new norm. And third, take in the shared experience. “I feel very fortunate to be able to recover at Walter Reed. Being surrounded by motivated service members with similar injuries and pain, and highly confident clinicians has greatly helped in my recovery process.”
In addition to participating in adaptive sports, Veronica is currently the co-founder of Linking Human Power, a Cognitive Design Consulting Firm, and is a fixed-wing commercial pilot and flight instructor with the APS Flight School in Warrenton, Virginia. She has been humbled and personally moved by the support and inspiration of fellow amputees/adaptive athletes as well as the numerous volunteers who dedicate their time to enrich and encourage people with disabilities to achieve anything they set their minds to. “I truly believe that inside most of us, is the will to survive and succeed in all that we do. I am defined by what I can do rather than my limitations. With a positive mindset, appropriate resources, and the support of my friends and family, I know I can continue to achieve great things in life while giving back to the adaptive sports community that has been so incredibly supportive of my recovery.”