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G.I.s challenge injuries with new athletic efforts

Running, cycling, and swimming give them new strength and purpose.

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His wife, Andrea, dropped everything at their home in Hawaii to be at his bedside in Bethesda, Md. The Fund helped out with some of the many expenses associated with devoting the family's attention to Mr. McGinnis's survival and recovery.

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As he slowly recovered, McGinnis learned of the group's support, carving a deep well of gratitude within him. As summer 2005 arrived, a few people with the fund said they planned to run in the Marine Corps Marathon that November.They asked him to join them.

His response was an unequivocal "Hell, yeah! I can't wait!" He saw it as his chance to draw from that well of support and to give back to the group. Then an unexpected round of surgeries sidelined him from the race. The disappointment was staggering, but it also hardened McGinnis's resolve to run the following year.

As soon as he was able, he began strength training. Then came the prosthetic designed for running.

"It took me forever to figure it out, but they never gave up," says McGinnis of the therapists who coached him. Eventually he was out there running with active-duty GIs.

He also started vigorous swimming workouts. A pool is the only place he doesn't need an adaptive device. He and several buddies made it to the Marine Corps Marathon's 10-kilometer race, and soon after Team Semper Fi was born. Now, almost two years later, he's run so many races and triathlons he's lost count.

"You don't want to bring any of that anxiety or issues [associated with injuries] home," he says. So "you work it out" in training.

He keeps an intense six-day-a-week schedule of workouts, around work with the American Pain Foundation and helping his wife raise their two young boys, whom he calls "my little motivators."

Now the elite athlete wants to improve his ability to bike up hills. Everyone else can stand up on their pedals for leverage. McGinnis starts to explain that he can't stand up on the bike, then pauses.

"I don't mean to say 'I can't,' " he says, then rephrases. "I'm having a hard time standing up on the bike."

Robinson says he expects the team, just two years old, to send athletes to the Paralympics or Iron Man competitions one day.

"When I was riding my handcycle, they weren't looking at me like, 'He's messed up.' They look at you with a lot of respect," says Robinson.

That's something Kathryn Rizzo understands well. Her injuries aren't immediately apparent, but she spent months trying to hide their effects, fearing others might look at her differently.

After suffering head injuries during her deployment in Iraq, she had to work twice as hard when she returned so no one would notice she struggled with memory problems and feelings of distrust and anxiety.

But when the problems became too much for her to hide, she was given a medical discharge, ending her plan for a lifelong career in the Marines. When she was faced with losing the only community and career she had known for years and entering a foreign civilian world, her future looked to her like a black hole.

When she learned about Team Semper Fi, Ms. Rizzo joined up. And now, even though her injury has altered her equilibrium, causing her to frequently lose balance and fall off her bike, she keeps training. She participated in a triathlon in New Jersey in May, and she sees a life ahead of her with purpose, surrounded by marines like her.

"Even though we're not protecting the country, we're still serving," says Robinson. "We were injured in the war and we can still lead normal lives, and exceptional lives for a lot of us."