By all rights, any fear of heights that Army veteran Centra “Ce-Ce” Mazyck might have had would be justified. On a particularly windy day in November 2003, she and other members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division went on their final parachute jump before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The wind carried Mazyck into the canopy of another soldier’s parachute and they plummeted toward the earth. Mazyck was able to free herself from the other soldier’s chute, but her recovery came too late. She came down. Hard. Her feet and knees were apart, out of position for a proper landing.
“It felt like a rough landing, but that had happened before. I remember trying to get up, but I couldn’t move. My legs were crossed, and when I tried to roll over, I knew something was wrong,” Mazyck said.
The jump had injured Mazyck’s L1 and L2 vertebrae, leaving her instantly paralyzed from the waist down. The doctor told her family she would never walk again. For a single mother of a young toddler, her greatest fear was that she would not be able to provide for her son.
“It didn’t make me feel good that someone would tell that to my family. I always go against the odds. When I heard the doctor say that, I said, ‘We’ll see,’” recalled Mazyck. “I want to go back to the hospital and walk up to that doctor today just to show him.”
As part of her road to recovery, Mazyck braved the altitude to attend the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colorado, which is co-sponsored by DAV (Disabled American Veterans) and the Department of Veteran Affairs. Mazyck was among more than 400 participants at the event, which is open to military veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological problems and other disabilities, who receive care at a VA or military treatment facility. Clinic activities encourage intensive physical rehabilitation. But more importantly, participants build their confidence.
“The clinic gives people a sense of hope. There’s a camaraderie, a fellowship,” said Mazyck.
At the culmination of the event, Mazyck was presented with the DAV Freedom Award for the inspiration she provided her fellow participants.
After attending the clinic, Mazyck worked to finish her degree in sociology and trained five days a week in the gym. She tried a number of wheelchair sports including powerlifting, but soon realized her passion was throwing the javelin. She placed first at the Paralympics trials in 2012. The following year she attended the IPC Athletics World Championships and won a bronze medal. She has competed and placed in several other competitions such as the Endeavor Games, the Czech Open and the Desert Challenge.
“I’m Centra Mazyck. I’m Ce-Ce. You didn’t know? I’m an achiever,” she said. “I’m an athlete. I was an athlete before I was disabled. I’m still an athlete. I’m still a soldier.”
She reaches out to her fellow veterans whenever she feels her story can inspire them to overcome obstacles in their lives.
“You have to believe in yourself, not in what someone tells you.”