Our partnership with Furnishing Hope has not only allowed us to help veterans heal at home, it has introduced us to wounded heroes with deeply inspiring stories. We’re sharing their tales of personal triumphs and trials in our Furnishing Hope blog post series, so you can learn more about these courageous, tenacious individuals and the lives they’re leading now.
Below is our interview with retired Marine and Paralympic athlete Kionte Storey.
Living Spaces: When and why did you join the military?
Kionte Storey: I joined the United States Marine Corps in 2007 after graduating high school out of Stockton, CA. I joined for a few reasons but mainly to branch out from my hometown and experience something new in life. The alternative would have been to attend an extended version of high school, as there is only one main community college nearby.
I deployed twice while under 3rd Battalion 7th Marines out of Twentynine Palms, once to Haditha, Iraq and once to Sangin, Afganistan, where I was injured via IED and became a below-the-knee amputee.
LS: What was the most important lesson you learned in the military?
KS: I learned a lot in the Marine Corps, but the most important lessons for me were about protecting the people I love, understanding that everything requires sacrifice, never giving up, and enjoying the good times while they last. Although I don’t get to see the Marines I served with often, I’ll see one or a few of them when I’m traveling for sports or events, and it’s always amazing.
LS: What was the best part of returning home?
KS: When I graduated from bootcamp, I was excited to go home and see my friends and family. Seeing my mom was huge for me, because I knew she didn’t initially agree with my decision to join, but came to understand and approve it, which meant a lot.
LS: How has your transition back to civilian life been?
KS: The transition is sometimes hard and sometimes easy. It’s hard because I miss my Marine Corps brothers and the brotherhood we shared, and it’s easy because I’m alive and independent.
LS: What is the most meaningful part of your home? What is your favorite room?
KS: My service dog, Koja, is the most important part of my home. I don’t know what life would be like without Koja always by my side. Our favorite space would probably be the living room, thanks to Furnishing Hope. Koja likes to see what’s happening outside, and I enjoy having an open area for watching movies, playing games and relaxing.
LS: How did you become a Paralympic athlete?
KS: My training for the Paralympics began around 2012, two years after my injury in Afghanistan. I was competing in the Endeavor Games, a Paralympic Camp for kids and adults with disabilities.
One of the committee members noticed me during a track event, which I ran with my everyday leg because I didn’t have one made specifically for running yet. She believed I had the potential to become a great track athlete, and her faith in me inspired me to train for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
I didn’t have much time to prepare for nationals, which were held in Indianapolis, but I was able to meet and compete against some of the top Paralympic track athletes. That experience was by far the most exciting and nerve-racking. It was just two years before that I had been serving overseas in Afghanistan and lying in a hospital without my leg. Then, I was suddenly competing as a Paralympic track athlete. I came close to last in my heat that day, but I knew I wanted to keep running.
LS: Why did you decide to continue competing in the Paralympics?
KS: Being a Paralympic athlete has allowed me to challenge myself and inspire others.
After my injury, I found myself in a dark place. I was dependent on my meds, and felt lost as I slowly spiraled into a depression. I became disgusted with myself and the direction I was headed. I knew that just wasn’t me.
Eventually, I started attending Paralympic camps and traveling more, and I began to think of that as my therapy. Once I started following that path, I noticed I was helping inspire others along the way, which fueled me even more. Sharing my story has become my way of giving back. I want people to see that no matter what happens in life, time won’t stop, so you have to keep going.
LS: What does Paralympic training entail?
KS: In the beginning, I would train obsessively – up to three times a day, five days a week – and I still felt it wasn’t enough. I would do CrossFit, sprinting and weight training. It took a while for me to slow down and focus more on the sport, which actually helped me improve my performance and train harder on the track.
Before the Rio games in 2016, I had a lot on my mind, from schooling decisions, to whether I was training enough, to whether I should even try to be a Paralympic athlete. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to Rio that year. I was hurt and deeply bitter, but that was the challenge I chose to take on, and it was never going to be easy.
LS: What are you currently working on?
KS: After realizing my career as a Paralympic athlete isn’t guaranteed to last forever, I decided to focus more on school. I had to figure out what I wanted to study, and I started by listing my interests, which include learning about the human body, working on flexibility and increasing my mobility. I was also determined to stay active and help fellow amputees become active. All of these considerations lead me to physical therapy. I recently started school, so I have a long road ahead.
Who knows what the future holds, but every new challenge presents a new opportunity.
Follow Kionte’s journey at kionte-storey.com.