When Jack “Dugan” DeLeuw discovered that he made Team Army as an athlete for Warrior Games in Orlando, Florida, the thrill of competition excited him. Paralyzed from the sternum down, Jack made his sporting debut in shooting, archery, rowing, and hand-cycling. By the end of the event, he took home three bronze medals—two in rowing and another in archery.
"My first Warrior Games and to come back with three different medals astonishes me," Jack said.
Jack’s dad, Thom DeLeuw, is his caregiver. He retired from his career to help Jack full-time about five months ago. Thom supported Jack’s activities at Warrior Games, but the event also provided a beneficial break from their at-home routine. This occasion was the first time Thom got to interact with other caregivers like him.
“It’s amazing what Disney, Fisher House, and the vendors are doing for the families and soldiers,” Thom said.
Fisher House has sponsored the Warrior Games Family Program for over a decade, enabling athletes to have support by their side. However, Thom was familiar with Fisher House long before his trip to Warrior Games. In 2015, Jack’s parents stayed at the San Antonio Fisher House after he hit a wild steer crossing the roadway as he was headed back to base on his motorcycle.
The fact that Fisher House is doing all this, and to have the family and friends’ support, the whole scenario is amazing,” Thom said.
Thom, an Army veteran, said Jack’s first accident led to some very dark days. He watched Jack grow up inspired to serve in the military like his dad, uncle, and grandfather. And at 9 years old, Jack told his dad he knew his future endeavors after watching movie “Black Hawk Down.”
“I remember looking at him going, ‘That’s what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be in the Army,’” Jack said.
He enlisted in the Army out of high school. His first day of jump school was September 11, 2015, but his path changed shortly after his October graduation.
“When we got to the hospital, he was in a coma. For three days, I sat next to him in his bed, rubbed his arm, and cried. I mean, it was tough,” Thom said.
Then five years after his first motorcycle accident, Jack suffered a second wreck when he veered off the road to avoid a man backing out of his driveway.
Thom’s best advice to other caregivers is to take care of themselves. He describes his son as his best friend but says he has learned patience and communication are essential. He says that, since his service patrolling the border in West Germany in the 1970s, the military has come a long way.
“There wasn’t near the facilities or accommodations for soldiers and families back then. But since the advent of Fisher House and all these other vendors, I mean, it’s just incredible what they do.”
Just before Warrior Games, Jack retired after nearly ten years of military service. He looks forward to more opportunities to compete in sports in the future.
“If I go again, it will be a challenge to come back with more medals or bring home some silver and gold.”
He might be able to compete in new ways as he continues to seek progress.
“The back of my legs, I get tingling. Every time I look down from sitting upright, I get that same tingling, and it’s reassuring and motivating to me.”
And, for those struggling to find a way forward, Jack has a message.
“Don’t let people limit your recovery, your successes, what you want to achieve in life. Never let anyone look at you and tell you can or can’t. Take it as a challenge to prove that person wrong.”