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Army vet and Invictus Games competitor Will Reynolds calls sports a milestone in his recovery

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Camaraderie, rehabilitative success on display at Invictus Games (2:21)

Capt. William Reynolds, Capt. Mitchell Kieffer and Aviation Electrician Mate 3rd Class Michael Roggio explain what it means to compete in the Invictus Games and the camaraderie among competitors. (2:21)

William Reynolds, a retired captain for the U.S. Army, was severely injured by an improvised explosive device while deployed in Iraq almost 12 years ago, eventually leading to the amputation of his left leg. The 35-year-old father of four, who won three bronze medals at the 2014 Invictus Games, will serve as co-captain for Team USA at the 2016 Invictus Games.

How long did you serve in the Army?

Reynolds: I served for a total of 6½ years on active duty. I was wounded three years into my service [in November 2004]. Then I spent a year or two recovering, and it's been a couple years on staff before I medically retired from the service.

Take me through how you sustained your injury.

Reynolds: I was injured by the shrapnel from an IED when I was on a dismounted patrol. So the shrapnel caused some pretty catastrophic damage to my left leg and left arm. We all go through peaks and valleys after any kind of traumatic injury. At first, after I was injured, I was in a severe valley. I had lost so much blood and [had] severed arteries to where I didn't think I would survive. They got me to the surgical facility. They were able to sustain me, so then you're at that peak again. And then you undergo a lengthy surgery. After that surgery, I didn't know if I was going to wake up with my limbs or what the scenario was going to be.

I ended up waking up from my first extensive surgery with all my limbs. So again you're back at that peak, but then as you start to get further down the recovery process, you continue to have that up-and-down spiral. So you've got to do your best to stay positive, stay motivated, lean on your mentors and then really set small milestones that you can achieve.

That's where that patience comes in. You've got to set those achievable goals that you can hit day in and day out, week in and week out, to keep yourself in a positive mindset moving forward.

Sports was one of those milestones after I got more in the outpatient phase that I was able to put in front of myself and say, 'OK, now I'm getting into adaptive cycling, adaptive skiing.' It was all about every day trying to ride a mile farther or spend a little more time on a bike. Just continually pushing those limits to keep myself rehabilitating.

Can you explain adaptive reconditioning?

Reynolds: You can think of adaptive reconditioning and adaptive athletics just like gym class. You really have to take it back to those elementary fundamentals, because we go thorough physical education in school and we learn how to play basketball and dodgeball and all of those things. But after you sustain a catastrophic injury, you've got to learn all that over again. You've got to learn how to literally walk again. Sometimes talk again. So it's all about teaching people how to get back into sports because once you're injured, you're going about sports in a different way.

When did you realize that competing in athletics was something that you could do and succeed at following your injury?

Reynolds: I was a collegiate athlete, so I always had that competitive mind-set. After I was injured, a large part of my identity was taken away. Even after college, I still competed running marathons and intramurals with my other service members. I was always competitive. When that was taken away, I was looking for ways to fill that void. So when adaptive sports and para-sports came onto the scene, it was natural for me to say, 'OK, that's something I want to strive for.'

Take me through your first experience with the Warrior Games.

Reynolds: My first experience with Warrior Games was in 2013. I wasn't super competitive at that point. For me, it was all about getting that exposure, getting back on the competition field. There's nothing that can simulate competition until you get out there and you get to the starting line. That's what brings it all back. [And] 2013 was all about getting back in that competitive mind-set.

From there it kind of took off. I started to refine my training, work with coaches and just get right back into all that discipline that I was doing throughout my collegiate athletic days. Now several years later, I'm a lot more competitive and still having a lot of fun.

What goes into your preparation for the Invictus Games?

Reynolds: Cycling and track have always been my two main competitive sports. I was a collegiate athlete in gymnastics, but after I got into the military, I got really involved in running. I was running competitive marathons and then cycling recreationally, so it was a natural fit for me after my injury to continue with those two sports.

In terms of my preparation, I work with a coach. A lot of cyclists work with a coach now. My coach gives me workouts; there are virtual means in which you can work with the coach. Got a power meter, the coach gives me workouts and I do those workouts and upload my data and they analyze it. I've got local cycling clubs that I train with and race with, and then it's the same way for track. I get out there and run and train with different teams.

Did your experience in the service in any way help inform what you do athletically in competition?

Reynolds: Absolutely. The military is an environment where you train the way you fight. That's what we always say. We try to make our training as realistic as possible. You train like how you want to race and compete. Being in season right now, the training intensity is at a high level and we're trying to train the exact way we want to race. The same kind of intensity, the same kind of simulation that we do in practice races, it's very similar to how we train in the military.

What's your favorite event?

Reynolds: Cycling. It's the most fun because it's not only a physical event, but there is quite a bit of mental built into it as well. The great thing about cycling is that it's a team event. So there's some strategy with your teammates and then there's mind games that you can play with your competitors too.

Would you say that's your best event?

Reynolds: My best events are probably middle distance on the track. The four and the eight, that's probably what I'm most competitive at. But those ones hurt a lot.

What does serving as captain for the U.S. team mean to you?

Reynolds: I'm really honored and humbled to serve as a captain. I'd like to say there are 114 other qualified individuals on the team that could be captain, because everyone has successfully navigated their recovery to be competing in the Invictus Games. Warrior Games is a newer level of competition for those people who may have just recently been wounded or injured, but Invictus Games are people who are a little bit further down their recovery process and have already demonstrated some success. So to have a prominent role among all those athletes who are all successful in their own right is a huge honor.

A senior researcher for ESPN the Magazine, Max Tyler has a particular interest in college football, although he has contributed to the coverage of a variety of sports in his almost two years with ESPN.