Army Paralympic shooter helps pioneer prosthesis

A sharpshooter who competed in the 2012 Paralympic Games also helped develop an innovative prosthesis that has helped countless wounded warriors. Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Olson, a member of the 2012 Paralympic shooting team and the Army Marksmanship Unit, missed qualifying for the finals in the mixed 10-meter air rifle prone competition at the Paralympic Games Sept. 1. He shot 595 points in the qualification rounds, but eight of his fellow competitors shot a perfect 600 score. Then Sept. 4, he shot 587 in the mixed 50-meter prone rifle competition, to earn 12th place.

In October 2003, Olson was wounded in Iraq by a rocket-propelled grenade during an ambush. From there, he was medically evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and was there for about eight days. After that, he said, he woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he spent about 18 months. “In my stay at Walter Reed, there was an outdoor event every day in occupational therapy — shotgun shooting,” he said. “I went out and shot sporting clay one day. I hit my first 49 out of 50.” Olson said his shooting acuity caught the attention of the program director at Walter Reed, who put in a call to the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., to see if a position was available for a competitive shooter or marksmanship instructor. “I went down to Fort Benning from Walter Reed, had a tryout and was very successful,” Olson said. “[I] got along great with the coaches and the other shooters on the team.”

The Army sergeant said he was assigned to the marksmanship unit in June 2005 and “slowly, but surely, started shooting.” “And I’m here today,” he added.
Olson noted that been many troops in his position have wished to stay in the military despite their injuries, but were unable to. “There’s a lot of guys [who] have been wounded [who] want to continue to serve,” he said. “I’m very blessed and very fortunate to be able to do that. I hope I inspire, not even [just] wounded Soldiers, but other Soldiers,” he continued, “just to [let them know], ‘Hey, you might be going through something tough, such as [post-traumatic stress], but if you work hard and give yourself goals to work on, it helps you get out of bed every day [and] helps you work hard and overcome things in your life.” In discussing the origin of the “Olson Socket,” the Army sergeant is quick to note he didn’t invent the prosthesis himself. “I was just the first guy to wear it and help make it work,” Olson explained. “In late 2004, I went down to Orlando, Fla., where Prosthetics and Associates is, and [met] a gentleman by the name of Dennis Clark.” “Those guys got together [with] myself and the actual designers, and originally drew it up on a bar napkin,” he revealed. “And we tried it out, and we put it together and made it work.” Olson said as soon as he got back to Walter Reed with the prosthesis, officials there immediately began sending service members down to Florida to be fitted for the same prosthesis and socket system. “I was very fortunate and very blessed they named it after me, but I just happened to be the first guy to ever have one,” he said. Olson credited his military service for the discipline that got him here to compete in the Paralympic Games. “Military service has prepared me for the Paralympics by teaching me determination, patience and just overall hard work,” he said. The key to his success, Olson said, is practicing, staying focused and concentrating on the fundamentals of his sport.

“For me, my biggest challenge is the ability to stay focused during the entire match,” he said. “So I do some mental exercises, a lot of imagery and some visualization exercises. This sport is 95 percent mental and 5 percent physical.
“I’ve been training a long time for this,” he added. “There’s really no shooting drill, no mental exercise or anything you can really do to prepare for actually sitting there.”