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Soldier overcomes tragedy for 2018 Winter Olympics

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By DAVID VERGUN

Five years ago, Megan Henry was in peak physical condition and had her sights set on riding her skeleton sled all the way to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Then tragedy struck. During training at Park City, Utah, Henry suddenly had great difficulty breathing.

Doctors told her she had pulmonary embolism, which is blood clots in the lungs, she said, adding that it was triggered by a birth control device she was using at the time.

“Lots of young girls who’ve used the device have died,” she added.

Henry was informed by doctors that she’d probably never be an athlete again.

“It was a very dark time,” she said.

Recovery was slow. She said she was put on blood thinners and could barely walk 10 minutes a day.

“I was sidetracked for a year,” she said.

But Henry is a Soldier and a fighter. Instead of thinking about the overwhelming odds of not recovering, Henry said she chose to focus instead on the possibility of making a comeback.

Henry said that besides having the support from her family, she also had support from her Army Family.

Coaches and therapists at the World Class Athlete Program at Fort Carson, Colorado, helped with her recovery.

“They were extremely supportive of me,” she said.

Today, Henry is ranked fifth in the U.S. and 25th internationally in the skeleton event and she said she believes she has a good shot at making it to Team USA in January, despite the fact that only two women will be picked out of a field of 20.

Making the team will depend on four races between now and then, two here and two at Calgary, Canada.

Henry said her biggest challenge today isn’t the physical or psychological aspect of the training. It’s getting enough calories to replace those she’s burned.

“I struggle with gaining weight,” she admitted. “People say ‘you’re lucky to have that problem’ and I’m like, ‘I’m really not.’”

To bulk up, besides eating, Henry blends food together in drinks. But it’s still not fun, she noted.

Henry said she wishes more Soldiers were aware of the WCAP program and the many sports Soldiers can compete in.

When Soldiers think Olympics many think of running or shooting, she said. They don’t know there are sports like skeleton.

In fact, some people have never even heard of skeleton, she said, describing the sport as sledding headfirst down a curvy mile-long track at more than 80 mph.

The same track is shared by luge and bobsled competitors, she added, some of whom are also Soldiers in the WCAP program.

Henry had words of advice for Soldiers who think they might want to get into the WCAP program.

“If you have a sport you think you’re good at, go to the WCAP site, look up the standards and see if you can make it,” she encouraged.

Other advice, “Be patient,” she said. “Never give up. I may not have been the strongest or stand-out athlete, but I think if you are dedicated and work really hard, the doors will open for you. Believing things will work out for you is huge.

“It’s amazing to have brothers and sisters around the world supporting you. It’s a tremendous honor. Even though we’re athletes, we do think of you all the time.”

Henry’s biggest fans, she said, are her parents and brother.

Her mom, Barbara Henry, was at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center, cheering her daughter on as she trained.

Her father is also a huge fan, her mom said. When she first started out in the sport, he built a wheeled skeleton for her that she could use to practice on the streets of Roxbury, Connecticut, her hometown.

Barbara Henry said she’s not surprised at her daughter’s success.

“She’s always been very focused and determined,” said Barbara. “She’s also a very good person.”

Perhaps some of mom’s drive and determination was inherited by her daughter. Barbara is the first selectman of Roxbury, a title equivalent to mayor.

Besides training for the Winter Olympics, Henry has been pursuing a master’s degree in military intelligence at American Military University, which she completed this month. Also in August, she was promoted to first lieutenant. She received her commission to second lieutenant after attaining the rank of staff sergeant. Currently, Henry is a reservist, stationed at Fort Devon, Massachusetts. n