Injured warrior breaks down barriers

Still feeling the effects of the nerve damage suffered when her arm broke in half while she was serving in Afghanistan, Marine Sgt. Lorie Yrigoyen stood on the podium on the first day of the Warrior Games, gold medal in hand.

The following Thursday, back in Southern California, her mother, Cheryl Yrigoyen, waited patiently at her office in Newport Beach to hear if her daughter would win another gold medal in the U.S. Paralympics-sponsored event in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Lorie, 29, participated in the cycling and swimming events at the 2013 Warrior Games — a competition held for injured, ill or wounded service members and veterans since 2010.

Cheryl, 60, of Huntington Beach, knew that her daughter won the gold medal in the women's 10K recumbent bicycle race on May 12. On Thursday, she found out Lorie won another gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle category and then another and then a bronze.

The Surf City resident would discover that her daughter earned gold in the 50-meter backstroke and bronze in the 100-meter freestyle.

Hundreds of injured personnel from all branches of the military participated in the weeklong competition: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations, according to the Warrior Games website. Representatives from the British armed forces also participated.

"Our injuries bring us together," said Lorie, choking back tears the day after the games ended. "It's such a moving experience. I didn't think it was this big of a deal, to be honest."

The injured soldiers competed in various events, like cycling, wheelchair basketball, archery and swimming.

The Marine sergeant broke the humerus in her right arm in 2012, when her vehicle flipped over in Afghanistan, Lorie said.

"My driver lost control of the vehicle," she said. "Something happened on the outside. We don't know exactly what."

Lorie was transported to Germany, where she underwent surgery. She said doctors had to place a metal plate and eight screws in her arm.

It's been more than a year since the injury and the bone has completely healed, but her motion is limited: She can't place her arm on her hip or touch her back with that arm, she said. Lorie suffered additional damage when her upper arm bone broke.

"I have radial nerve palsy because the radial nerve wraps around the humerus, and that was damaged in my roll-over," Lorie said. "Since then, I probably have about 80% of feeling back in my arm. I can't hold things for a very long time. Sometimes when I'm writing, I'll drop the pen or my hand will just stop working. The break is good; the nerve damage is bad."

Lorie said being a Marine has taught her to never give up, to get the job done no matter what. She's used that to fuel her performance in the Warrior Games, she said, but that perseverance and sense of accomplishment was also something she'd always been looking for as she grew up in Huntington Beach.

"I had everything given to me as a child. I really didn't have to work too much," Lorie said. "I got jobs as a teenager because I wanted my own money, but I was pretty much handed everything."

Cheryl said she paid for her daughter's tuition for the cosmetology program at Golden West College. Lorie finished the program and was on the way to finishing her associate degree and transfering to a four-year college when she realized she wasn't fulfilled.

During that time, Lorie's cousin was in the Marines, and learning about that life gave her a window into how to achieve the satisfaction of accomplishment that she was yearning for.

"Why don't you join the Marine Corps? You have to earn everything," her cousin told her.

"Something just triggered inside me and I figured I'd try this," Lorie said. "So I tried it and fell in love with it."

The Marines won the Warrior Games this year, making it four victories in a row. Lorie said she's planning on competing again next year but not because of the draw of another Chairman's Cup, the award that goes to the top overall performing branch of the service.

"It's the camaraderie. I can't even describe the emotions that I went through this past month," she said. "Everybody just comes together."

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