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From Recovery to Resilience: Navy Service Member Shares His Story

Image of Two people with a shotput. Navy recovering service member shares his recovery journey, and how adaptive sports encouraged him physically and mentally. (Photo: Roger Wollenberg)

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Navy Chief Petty Officer John “Blake” Conley spent weeks preparing to make the Navy Wounded Warrior Team

With the help and support of Navy Wounded Warrior and Warrior Care’s Military Adaptive Sports Program (MASP), he will be competing in the upcoming 2022 Warrior Games.

Blake’s wounded warrior journey began in July 2019, when he experienced strong migraines and bad reactions with his medication within one month. After receiving an MRI, he was told there was a mass in his brain. Blake shared, “I was only 35 years old, so I wasn’t expecting to have cancer.”

Sharing the overwhelming news with his family, they decided to make a cross country move. Blake explained, “I did my neurosurgery in Pearl Harbor, they removed a four square inch mass out of my left frontal lobe. Then we moved to Walter Reed, that’s where my wife’s family is located, and it was easier to get help with our children during this time. Having a support system from my family has been awesome.”

A year after finishing his chemotherapy, Blake has now taken control of his recovery and is participating more in adaptive sports and reconditioning activities with his family support.

“I’ve been trying to incorporate these kinds of activities with the kids, and we’re able to have fun and get out a little bit more,” Blake shared. Creating goals has allowed Blake to remain focused and motivated to try out for the Navy’s Wounded Warrior Team and compete at the 2022 Warrior Games.

Navy Wounded Warrior offers programs and services across the country. In May 2020, Blake started participating in the MASP program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where adaptive sports and reconditioning activities are an integral part of the recovery program.

“I went through chemo during the COVID shutdown,” continued Blake. “It’s a very untypical Navy life for me, I’m used to having friends at my command, but I didn’t have that. My last day of chemo was in February 2021.”

“Currently, I am stationed at Navy Warrior Transition Company at Walter Reed,” Blake stated. “I’m also temporary additional duty for Navy Wounded Warrior and fulfill the role of a non-medical care manager.” “It’s an important part of reintegration and very rewarding being able to help people enroll and get the support they need to be successful,” Blake shared.

As an active participant in military adaptive sports programs, “this was something that helped me get out the house, be active, and meet people," he said. "It’s cathartic to talk to other service members who are going through troubling conditions and pass on positivity."

For Blake, it’s a privilege to be on the Navy team at the Warrior Games.

“To represent all the other wounded warriors and what they’ve gone through in their struggle, meet new people from different branches, it’ll be really cool.”

Moving beyond his cancer has been very rewarding, he said.

“My family and I can get out a little bit more," he said.

"I hope from my experience that my kids realize that if you stay positive you can get through anything. Also, what kids are going to turn down Disney?”

The 2022 Warrior Games will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida from August 19-28. To participate in Warrior Care's Military Adaptive Sports Program, visit the MASP webpage. To learn more about Navy Wounded Warrior visit their homepage.

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