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‘Becoming a Military Caregiver Changed Me’: Father and Veteran Son Adapt to New Reality and Find New Passions

Mike Delancey Sr. always had a knack for coaching, but he didn’t realize he would strengthen these skills to support his veteran son’s recovery from wounds of war. For Mike Sr., the role of single-dad caregiver was relentlessly life-changing.

Adapting to a new reality was a tough battle for him and his son; however, these life changes would also fuel new passions. In the past decade, Mike Sr. has built opportunities for veterans and civilians to go beyond physical injuries and acquire new skills through adaptive sports by founding the nonprofit, Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch in Pinellas Park, Florida.

Becoming a Caregiver

Mike Sr. became a caregiver two years after his son, Mike Delancey Jr., enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps. During Mike Jr.’s deployment in Iraq, he was hit by a sniper’s bullet that entered his left shoulder and hit three of his vertebrae. He flatlined five times before he could be stabilized to go to Landstuhl, Germany for more surgery, and eventually returned to the U.S. for extensive treatment and physical rehab.

Mike became paralyzed from the fifth thoracic vertebra (T5) down and depended on his dad for care and mobility. “I literally became a full-time nurse overnight,” Mike Sr. said. “Becoming a military caregiver changed me drastically. I had to learn how to be a caregiver.”

Caregiving Leads to Love for Adaptive Sports

Mike reached out to Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) and brought his son to participate in connection events where they met other warriors and caregivers. They also found a supportive community and learned about resources for veterans. “It helped open my eyes about what’s out there for my son,” Mike said.

When they attended a WWP Soldier Ride® in Miami - Key West in 2010, Mike Jr. discovered hand cycling. “That was my son’s first adaptive event,” Mike said. “He enjoyed riding the hand cycle. That’s still his favorite thing.” 

The experience of riding the hand cycle for miles taught Mike Jr. that there are no limits. The camaraderie of being on the road with other injured veterans also taught him he’s not alone.

When Mike Jr. began sharing his warrior journey through WWP, Mike Sr. accompanied him everywhere – from Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) community events to conferences and star-studded gatherings.

“Wounded Warrior Project brought us together,” Mike Jr. said. “When we went on WWP activities, my dad got to meet families of other injured vets and, like me, talking to others really helped make him feel he wasn’t alone out there.” 

Together, this father and son power duo inspired veterans and other caregivers to reach out for help – but they wanted to make an even bigger impact.

While their involvement with WWP introduced the Delanceys to the world of adaptive sports, they took what they learned a step further and found new purpose helping others discover new abilities. The concept of an outdoor facility dedicated to adaptive sports was a dream that would soon find its way to reality. When the city of Pinellas Park offered 10 acres for a park, Mike was ready.

A Field of Dreams Turns to Reality

Today, Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch is a premier venue and park for veterans and civilians with all levels of ability. A busy schedule of practice for different adaptive sports, local and national sports events, as well as fundraising events, keeps Mike Sr. busy throughout the year.

“There was a big need for competitive sports focused on adaptive athletes,” Mike Sr. said. The facility soon evolved from recreational to competitive adaptive sports to meet the demand. There was also a gap in services for wheelchair rugby that the ranch identified and trailblazed.

Mike Sr. has assembled a team of volunteer coaches with national credentials, including Team USA, to empower adaptive athletes to show the world what they can do in paralympic competitions.

Athletes from the Tampa Generals & Warriors wheelchair rugby teams come together to train at Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch. There are also teams practicing wheelchair basketball, baseball, football, hand cycling, and women athletes who use the facility.

While dad is busy growing adaptive sports in the Tampa Bay area and beyond, son Mike Jr. is blazing his own path. Through mentoring others, Mike Jr. found his own passion through teaching and went back to school to complete a bachelor’s degree in education. He currently teaches third grade.

Educating and Empowering Veterans and Civilians to Reach Lofty Goals

Mike Sr. is proud of his son and continues to work to bring empowerment to adaptive athletes. Incorporating veterans and civilians is an important theme. Including volunteers who are dedicated to mentoring and coaching athletes is important, too.

There is much to be done to remove barriers in access to training facilities and gyms where people of all abilities can practice in a safe space.

“There are many challenges of finding facilities for adaptive sports,” Mike Sr. said.

While the organization they founded together addressed urgent needs, the goal is to inspire veterans to get out and be active and to welcome athletes into a more comfortable environment. Because the need for adaptive training facilities is so great, athletes come from other states as well, including Texas and Alabama.

“I had no idea where this path would lead, but to be part of these veterans’ daily lives is crucial in their recovery and rewarding for us to see them grow in life.”

To learn more about Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch, visit https://woundedwarriorsabilitiesranch.org

To learn more about WWP programs for injured veterans and their caregivers, please visit https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs

Contact: Raquel Rivas – Public Relations, rrivas@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.426.9783

About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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