Tom Giannettino 1Tom Giannettino was in a dark place. And he knew it.

“I hit rock bottom and it was horrible,” says the Air Force Veteran, describing his recovery from a traumatic injury he suffered in 2010 while working undercover for the New York state police.

During the next few years, he lost his job, his identity and his purpose, and no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t shake the burdens of guilt and anger that consumed him. Then one day he stumbled upon an image of a young woman, an Army Veteran, who was a world-class athlete competing in triathlons. She was an amputee. “That was the moment,” says Giannettino. “It just inspired me to see her and I thought if she can do a triathlon with one leg, then why can’t I do it with one arm.”

Dare2tri co-founder Melissa Stockwell

Dare2tri co-founder Melissa Stockwell

In 2013, he attended a triathlon camp hosted by Dare2tri, a non-profit paratriathlon club based in Chicago that helps and encourages athletes of all ability levels from beginner to elite. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, one of the co-founders of Dare2tri was Melissa Stockwell, the young Army Veteran whose image inspired his recovery.

And so began his journey; not necessarily through the doors of a hospital or through prescription pills; but through the grueling process of swimming 750 meters, biking 20 kilometers, and running 5 kilometers. “I soon learned that this was the mechanism that was helping me manage my daily life and gave me my inspiration to get up every day and set new goals and aspirations,” Giannettino wrote in an essay chronicling his journey titled Rock Bottom to Red, White and Blue.

As he became more and more involved with the sport, Giannettino contacted USA Triathlon and learned about the high performance development program and the monthly assistance allowance VA pays to military Veterans who meet performance standards in their particular sport.

Beginning in 2010, Congress authorized VA to pay a monthly allowance to Veterans training for or selected to compete on the U.S. Paralympic Team. The payment rates are based on VA’s vocational rehabilitation rates: roughly $600 a month for a single Veteran plus extra for dependents. That first year, about 50 Veterans qualified for allowance payments in a handful of sports.

For Giannettino, the VA benefit served two purposes: it helped with the financial burdens of preparing for competition, like travel and coaching, and it gave him additional inspiration to reach for the highest level of competition. Paratriathlon was only recently sanctioned for Paralympic competition and will debut at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Giannettino is not guaranteed a spot on Team USA, and he knows he still has a long way to go. But looking back on his journey, he recognizes just how far he’s come. And that’s reason enough to celebrate.

Tom Giannettino 3He recently e-mailed VA to express his gratitude for the monthly allowance. “Every single dollar helps to fulfill the obligations of constant traveling and training. I can’t thank you enough for the continued commitment of helping us Veterans reach for new goals and aspirations. Most importantly representing our country, the United States of America,” he wrote.

Today, paratriathlon is one of about 30 sports recognized for international Paralympic competition and VA pays allowances to some 150 Veterans each month who are hoping to represent their country in international competition.

A full list of sport governing bodies and points of contact is available for review at http://www.va.gov/adaptivesports/docs/Paralympic_Sport_POCs.pdf

If you are a military Veteran and interested in learning more about VA’s monthly allowance for elite athletes, visit http://www.va.gov/adaptivesports/ and click on the “Training Allowance” tab.


 

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6 Comments

  1. James Cahill November 1, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I have been working to raise funds, training and recruiting veterans who want to fulfill Operation Rebound motto of going form the “Frontline to the Finish Line” The VA has put funding into this program yet I see that the VA did not mention the many athletes that they work with are not mentioned? BTW Operation Rebound sent 10 athletes to the Sochi Paralympics 3 years ago..

  2. Paul Stephen Varszegi October 30, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Very nice inspiring story Matt!
    Thank you for writing it and making it so compelling for everyone to support our Adaptive Sports/Recreational Rehabilitation programing.
    The VA does great work to support all our severely disabled Veterans!

    Very best,
    -Paul
    Paul Stephen Varszegi
    Veterans’ Rowing & Kayaking, Inc.
    Founder/President

  3. Matt Bristol October 29, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Hi Don: thank you for your service and your ongoing participation in VA sports programs. Selection for the U.S. Paralympic Team is handled by officials within a particular sport. Athletes generally have to meet certain requirements during national or international competition. The first step is to contact the governing body for your sport. A list of contacts is here: http://www.va.gov/adaptivesports/docs/Paralympic_Sport_POCs.pdf . Ask about the standard for your sport and the qualifications you would have meet to be considered for the Games. Best of luck with your training.

  4. Don Davison October 28, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    I would love to participate in the Paralympic Games in Rio. I participated in this years Valor Games on the West Coast and I am still in training. Lets do this. Please contact me as soon as possible with all the details on registration times and dates. you can reach me. Hope to hear from you soon.

    • DannyG October 29, 2015 at 11:00 pm

      Brother Don, GO FOR IT ! Good lluck & have fun. GO TEAM U.S.A.

      Please keep us posted.

  5. DannyG October 27, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    EVERY PENNY THESE VETERANS GET IS OKAY BY ME !! We came home, but some of our brothers and sisters barely came short of giving “ALL”. When my back & hip hurt, & the “demons” in my head start acting up, it really makes me think I have problems; THEN, someone has to remind me of how really fortunate I am !
    It is hard enough to function in today’s world with “invisible” injuries. Can you imagine fighting what I refer to PTSD as, demons, AND these types of injuries ?! To me, these are TRUE American Heroes! Not taking anything away from anyone else; heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and duty titles; we all did our part.
    Mr. Giannettino, My Brother, Welcome back! Stay strong, & best of luck on your new journey!
    (fmr 60th sps, tafb, ca)

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