From his hospital bed, Angelo Anderson could see the wheelchair, the cane and the walker with the tennis balls on the bottom. He told himself he would ditch them one-by-one to walk out on his own, after bullets shattered the bones in his upper leg and arm in Afghanistan.
This past summer, he did far more than walk at the US Open—just over three years and hundreds of hours of physical therapy since the Navy corpsman was shot, Anderson sprinted repeatedly across the court on that titanium rod that runs from his knee to his hip. He threw the ball to players using that arm reinforced by a titanium plate. He knelt next to the net on that leg he once couldn’t bend past 45 degrees.
From the stands at the last major tournament of 2013, Anderson didn’t look much different from any other ballperson, other than that he was a bit older than many at age 24.
“It’s a sport that has intrigued me for a long time because there’s such an active nature to it, which meshes with my personality,” Anderson says. “Being a ballperson is not only a lot of fun, but it’s a great opportunity to let people see Wounded Warriors as a family in a position where they are active and making a difference. It’s a story that can touch a lot of people’s hearts.”
In 2010, the Navy Corpsman volunteered for a combat assignment with a rifle company of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Anderson was accompanying U.S. Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers on foot patrols throughout the Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan on July 2, when enemy AK-47 bullets tore through both his right arm and thigh, shattering his femur and landing him in an orthopedics ward back in the United States. In the weeks that followed, Anderson received the Purple Heart on behalf of President Barack Obama for his injuries in the line of duty, as well as the Fleet Marine Force Warfare Insignia, a military badge issued to naval personnel trained and qualified to perform duties in support of the U.S. Marine Corps.
With his leg reconstructed, Anderson’s rehabilitation has been a lasting struggle—it was almost a year after his surgery before he could walk unassisted. In the interim, he learned the nuances of operating a wheelchair to the point of proficiency.
“I learned that a big portion of my healing came after the medicine with my family and my co-workers,” Anderson says. “Through adaptive sports and athletics, there were so many opportunities to physically improve before I even was ready to walk again. Mentally, I was creating these goals and getting into a great spirit. I had no time to let negative thoughts sink in.
“I know where I used to be in high school before enlisting and where I am now. It’s almost like two totally different individuals. I’m more mature, and the body follows the mind—it’s always being prepared within your mind. That’s why recovery is more mental than physical.”
The word “hero” is defined as a person who is idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. To see more examples of heroism, and compelling evidence that this sport suffers no shortage of such individuals, click here.