FORT LIBERTY, NC., -- For a six foot-five infantryman, Staff Sgt. Abel Baez’s pain is just something he dealt with for quite a long time. “I’m infantry… we go by the motto if you got pain drink water - if you still have pain drink more water.”

All joking aside, Baez explained how he dealt with years of pain from an ACL and meniscus tear that was surgically fixed but not healed as it should. “I tore my left ACL back in 2014 I had a cadaver (ligament) put in and I learned my body didn’t accept it,” he said. “I started feeling pain and had it seen again in 2021.

He went to the Fort Stewart Soldier Recovery Unit to recover when he had to have it fixed again. It was there Baez learned about adaptive sports as a recovery tool. “I’ve always been very competitive so when I learned they try to help keep that competitive drive alive in you regardless of your condition, recovering with adaptive sports is what I did,” said Baez. “I started going to wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball and it got my head out of a lot of problems and concerns with my body.”

It also kept his mind busy. Baez learned after 18 years he would medically retire. “That’s one of the things you face when you’ve been doing something you love for so long and then they tell you, that you can’t do it anymore,” he added. “You need to find something to get your head out of the gutter so to speak.”

Baez said he was stunned to learn of the Army Recovery Care Program after such a long time in service. He is most grateful for the myriad of ways he was afforded help to recover and overcome.

“The programs they (SRU) offer have been great,” said Baez. “It gives you opportunities to see what options you have and what you can do. That’s another reason the SRU is so great because not only does it help you mentally with adaptive sports with all the people there, but it helps you get something going for when you do get home as a civilian that you can do.”

The Florida National Guardsman who spent 14 of his 18 years on active duty, has some prospects for his career when he medically retires. Right now, he is using his adaptive sports experience to compete for Team Army at the 2024 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Orlando this June. Baez is competing in, air rifle, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and sitting volleyball.

“I’ve always been on ‘Team Army,’ after 18 years it’s in my blood. Competing on Team Army at Warrior Games? What a way to represent!”