Naval Special Warfare Group TWO
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tony DeFilippo
QUANTICO, Va. – For most kids, their bike is their most prized possession. It’s your first taste of individual freedom. Flying around the neighborhood, over curbs, through backyards, sun on your back and wind in your face, your bike took you anywhere you wanted to go. You didn’t need mom and dad’s permission. Your big brother didn’t have to give you a ride. You were in control.
As an adult, most people trade in their bikes for cars, but at age 47, Lt. Cmdr. Jaime Sigala, the weapons officer at Naval Special Warfare Logistic Support Unit 2 in Virginia Beach, Va, has rediscovered the liberating power of two wheels.
On Dec. 13, 2013, Sigala fell and suffered a compound fracture of his lower left leg. The injury became infected, and after months of trips to the hospital and multiple surgeries, his doctor gave him news which would change his life. His leg needed to be amputated.
“My whole world came tumbling down,” he said. “How do I go from a broken leg to, you have to cut my leg off? How did this happen?”
Even today, there’s still a look of disbelief in his eyes as he recalls it, but Sigala did have a choice. The doctor told him if he underwent years of more surgeries, they could save the limb, but it would never regain proper mobility. If they amputated, however, he could get a prosthetic and be walking in a matter of months. Chomping at the bit to get back to work, Sigala chose the amputation.
The very next day he was in the operating room and they removed his left leg below the knee. He remembers waking up in the middle of the night and feeling the most intense itch on his ankle he’d ever felt. He reached down and there was nothing there. Sigala says this was when it really started to sink in. For a while he dealt with depression and self doubt. Even now, more than a year later, he still gets choked up talking about it. He says it was a shot to his self-worth. He felt like a cripple, like a piece of him had been taken away in more than just a physical sense.
One of his biggest concerns was the injury would jeopardize his naval career. His chain of command, however, reassured him they had his back and would do everything they could to help him get better.
“That was a blessing,” he said. “I can’t say how much relief I had after that. It made the process easier knowing that LOGSU-2 and Naval Special Warfare Group TWO were behind me and I’m going to be able to get through this.”
The command told him to focus on getting himself right, and Sigala says he couldn’t be more grateful to his coworkers for the support. They all chipped in and made sure everything was taken care of at work so he could focus on his physical therapy.
“I grew up in the Navy,” he said. “I’ve met so many great people. I’ve been a part of so many things in the world, and I didn’t want to leave like that. I wanted to get better, stand up and finish my career on my terms.”
Working with the physical therapist at LOGSU-2, Sigala began making big strides in his recovery. Before long he was up walking, and this was when he discovered a nonprofit called “Ride 2 Recovery.” They help injured service members and veterans by providing them with bicycles and training them to ride. He met with them in September, got a bike, and in October was in his home state, California, for a six-day challenge ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
A lot of people told him he wasn’t ready for something like this, but one of the ride’s organizers, Mike Day, stuck up for Sigala, and said, “No, Jaime’s coming.” Sigala says that gave him a goal, and it gave him hope because someone believed in him
“Being able to do something physically, when you don’t have a leg, it’s proof to myself that, ‘Hey, I can do this’,” Sigala said.
He completed the ride and then got sent to the Warrior Games selection camp. The Warrior Games is an annual event put on by the Department of Defense where injured, ill and wounded service members and veterans compete in Paralympic sporting events. Sigala qualified for the men’s upright bike race and the shooting competition for Team U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and on June 21, 2015, at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., he got his chance to compete.
The race kicked off at 10 a.m., and after the first lap, Sigala was in the front group of riders. On the second lap, though, a piece broke off of his bike. He was able to get it back on, only to have it break again. Still, he finished the 30-kilometer race in 56 minutes and 46 seconds.
Following the race, Sigala was extremely frustrated and disappointed by the equipment malfunction because he felt he had a strong chance of medaling. Still, he was able to keep everything in perspective.
“I feel accomplished,” he said. “I look back a year ago and I couldn’t even walk now here I am, I just finished a race. I did it on my own, and I’m pretty proud of that.”
It’s been a long road to get to where he is today, and he still has a ways to go, but Sigala says he is grateful for his teammates and the sense of not pushing forward through tough circumstances alone. He draws inspiration from the rest of Team SOCOM, and he knows how many people are back there supporting him. For now, he’s just going to keep pedaling.