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News | March 8, 2014

A Few of Navy's Finest Compete for Gold During Paralympics

By Defense Media Activity Defense Media Activity

FORT MEADE, Md. (NNS) -- The Navy has three wounded warriors participating in the upcoming Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Tyler Burdick, Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) 1st Class Kevin Burton, and Lt. Cmdr. Dan Cnossen will all compete for gold in their respective events.

For Burdick, that's snowboarding. However, after his injury, he wasn't sure he'd even walk, let alone snowboard.

It was with one week left of his third deployment that Burdick's armored vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, resulting in serious injuries to both of his feet. He decided against amputation, instead undergoing limb salvage and intense physical therapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md.

When he had regained enough muscular strength in his feet and lower legs, Burdick was fitted for a pair of cutting-edge braces that allowed him to stand and walk upright again.

An avid snowboarder before the accident, he was introduced to the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. There, he began training with Team Utah, a competitive snowboard team for both able-bodied and adaptive snowboarders. He excelled immediately in his first season of competition, notching five top-10 performances in world cup events.

"After my injury, my goal was to snowboard again," said Burdick. "I told myself, 'When I ride again, I'll consider myself recovered.' To not only return to snowboarding, but to relearn how to do it well at the world-class level; yeah, I feel fully recovered. My passion is renewed and I have something that drives me to excel and to never look back or feel sorry for myself."

Burton was in his ninth year serving as an Arabic linguist with the United States Navy, including tours to Iraq and Kuwait, when in 2010 he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa.

Before being medically retired in February 2011, Burton went through treatment at the Veterams Administration (VA) Medical Center Augusta's Blind Rehabilitation Center in Georgia, where he learned how to complete everyday tasks without his eyesight.

Three years later he is gearing up to compete in the Paralympics as a Nordic skier in the cross-country skiing and biathlon event.

A biathlon is a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. Let that sink in for a moment.

Burton competes with the aid of a guide who skis in front of him and gives him directions on the course. To aim his shot, he listens to headphones that tell him how close he is and whether or not he is on target. An avid cross-country skier before his accident, Burton wore skis again for the first time in March 2012 at the VA's National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colo.

"It always helps when you hear people cheering you on," said Burton. "It also helps that I ski with a guide so I always have someone to chase. When things get really tough, I just focus on my guide's feet and worry about one stride at a time. Due to the nature of my vision, when I do that I don't see what is around me, how fast I am going or how far I have left to go. I just keep taking that next step until all of a sudden I'm at the top of the hill or across the finish line."

Cnossen was serving as the platoon commander for SEAL Team One in Afghanistan in September 2009 when he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) and was injured in the explosion. The accident caused Cnossen to lose both his legs just above the knee. He is the only double-amputee Navy SEAL in history.

The United States Naval Academy graduate and Topeka, Kan., native found ways to be active again as soon as possible. Exactly one year from the date of his accident, Cnossen ran a mile with his prosthetics for the first time.

Since then, he has completed the 2011 New York City Marathon in 2 hours, 38 minutes (handcycling 16 miles and running 10.2), and earned four Warrior Games medals. He also began cross-country skiing, something that he had never tried prior to his injury.

He worked with the U.S. Army's 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and, given his natural talent for the sport, began training exclusively in cross-country skiing and biathlon the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing National Team.

"I know that all my teammates and competitors are giving 100 percent on the course, and it pushes me to do the same," said Cnossen. "Especially knowing that the competition is so intense, I have to give it everything."