Staff Sgt. Rachel Salemink joined the Army Reserves at age 17, straight out of Churubusco High School in 1999.
“At 17, I'll be honest, it was for college money,” Salemink, 36, said. “As time has gone on, I've loved my job and I've loved serving my country, and I can do it part-time. I deployed in 2005 but being able to come back here to Fort Wayne ... is amazing.
“This community really rallies around their veterans and the service members. I don't go out in my uniform often but when I do and people thank me, I'm humbled by their sincerity.”
Fast forward 18 years since her reservist career began, Salemink is now a Human Resource Specialist with the U.S. Army Reserve and she was able to represent the U.S. Army at the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games in Chicago.
The games took place June 30-July 8, and it was the first time the games were held outside a military installation. Participants, consisting of wounded, ill and injured service members, from the United States competed for their respective branch split between Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Command and against members of the Australian and British military.
Salemink earned silver medals in the 100-, 200-, 800- and 1,500- and bronze in the 400-meter races in wheelchair track races.
“I had the time of my life,” Salemink said. “I can't put into words how amazing the experience was. I thought it would be good competition but more than the competition, it was more about the family of all of us coming together and just cheering each other on.”
In 2015, Salemink suffered a torn labrum in her hip sustained while mobilized at Fort Bliss, Texas, that, despite intense physical therapy, eventually required surgery.
She received her surgery in 2016 at Fort Bliss, where the 2016 group of Warrior Games hopefuls were attempting to qualify for the national event.
The surgery meant Salemink was unable to resume her normal level of physical activity, which included running. She is able to walk but to compete in the track events at the Warrior Games, she used a racing wheelchair. She also was slated to compete in the cycling and swimming events but fell and broke her hand during the cycling event and was unable to compete in swimming.
“Before my (hip) injury, I ran and did CrossFit,” she said. “I had never picked up a bow and arrow and I had never fired an air rifle, but I picked up both those things and really excelled. I didn't make the team for those but it was still a lot of fun.
“I had never gotten into a wheelchair before, and to be able to push it was truly amazing. I have a racing wheelchair so I'm able to practice.”
The Warrior Games began in 2010 and was first overseen by the U.S. Olympic Committee. The Department of Defense took it over in 2015.
The next step is the Invictus Games, an international competition started by Prince Harry in 2014. The teams already have been chosen for this year's event in Toronto in September, but 2018 in Australia is still an option.
“You have all your scores and times from Warrior Games,” she said, “and you get your numbers out to the representatives and compete in other events during the selection process between October and April. I'm going to try and do anything I can. It's not just Invictus. I'm not able to be a Paralympian because my injury isn't great enough, which is fine. But these are ways I can go and show my skills.”