There is life after becoming disabled and anybody can psychologically and physically overcome catastrophic injuries, former Army specialist Scott Winkler emphasized during a special presentation at the on Tuesday.
"The key is that there are still things to do," Winkler said from his wheelchair. "I was put in this chair for a reason. I want to inspire people to not give up."
In Winkler's case, those "things" include hurling a shot put 11.27 meters to break a Paralympic world record. He also enjoys snowskiing, waterskiing, rockclimbing, hunting and fishing. When he's not breaking athletic records, he travels the country giving inspiring speeches to teary-eyed listeners.
Winkler, 38, said he was filled with anger and exasperation after becoming paralyzed from the chest down after falling from an ammunition truck in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2003.
At the beginning of his stateside rehabilitation, he spent countless hours hand-swinging his wheelchair through the halls of a Veterans Administration hospital, asking himself: "Why me?"
But eventually he realized that it was time to make lemonade out of lemons. A former sprinter in high school, he went to a sports clinic for wounded soldiers where he learned the shotput. He started training and became one of the first Iraq War veterans to qualify for the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008.
Along the way, he also got married, got involved in numerous causes and started a foundation, Champions Made From Adversity, which helps advance the lives of those with disabilities through sports and leisure activities.
A Pittsburgh native who currently resides in Georgia, Winkler was in Forest Hills as part of the third annual ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival. The festival is a six-day event in which movies depicting people with disabilities are shown at venues throughout the New York City area.
On Feb. 8, the Central Queens Y showed "Anita," a film about a girl with Down syndrome who loses contact with her mother after a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires is bombed, and "Warrior Champions," a documentary on four Iraqi War veterans, including Winkler, who participate in competitive sports after becoming disabled.
Noting that medicine keeps improving, Winkler was positive about the future for people with disabilities, especially in the athletic realm.
"We're clearing the path," he said. "[The next generation is] going to pave it with gold."