Combat medic Soldier is snowboarding sensation
Combat medic Soldier is snowboarding sensation
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.-“One more time,” she says through heavy breathes before turning to climb back up the hill, kicking her purple boots into the snow as she makes her way up the slope.
A few moments later, she speeds down on her snowboard towards the first jump. She launches into the air, grabs the front of her board with one hand and extends the other. At the second jump she flies straight up toward the sky, arching her body backwards into a backflip.
Her black, sticker covered board sends a spray of snow into the air as she skids to a stop. She takes a moment to catch her breath, smile, and trudges back up the hill to give it yet another go.
This fearless and energetic snowboarder is Arizona Army National Guard’s Spc. Charity McGeary, a combat medic with the 856th Military Police Company in Bellemont, Arizona, and she will compete in the United States of America Snowboarding and Skiing Association National Championship (USASA) at Copper Mountain, Colorado, later this month.
McGeary got into snowboarding at age 13 after reading a flyer that announced a local ski team was giving out scholarships. After applying she received a scholarship for herself and her two brothers with the Flagstaff Alpine Ski and Snowboard Team.
It was the opportunity that helped develop McGeary into the skilled snowboarder she is today.
The scholarship provided everything except gear. She and her brothers worked for their parents to save money so they could purchase their equipment. On Wednesdays, Saturdays and any other time allowed, the siblings would go to Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort to practice.
“During the second year I started really liking to do it [snowboarding] competitively,” said McGeary.
“She’s tough as nails,” said Josh Nelson who was McGeary’s snowboarding coach from the ages of 13 to 18. “She’s an extremely driven person when it comes to snowboarding.”
After reaching the team’s age limit of 18, McGeary continued on as a coach, helping other kids learn how to snowboard.
Nelson also noted that she is currently the highest certified snowboard coach with USASA in the state.
McGeary has a noticeable stature, she is tall with light brown hair reaching the middle of her back. Her blue eyes are bright and complement her smile. She has an athletic build and an abundance of energy.
Be it mixed martial arts, mountain biking or rock climbing, McGeary loves staying active with different outdoor activities, but her true passion is snowboarding.
“It’s defiantly my favorite sport,” she said.
All of this physical activity would pay off when at age 18 McGeary decided to enlist in the Army.
“I wanted to go active duty at first,” she said. “I wanted to leave home and experience something new.”
However breaking both of her collarbones snowboarding postponed any attempt to join the Army right away.
Instead, she enrolled in college, took medical classes and received her emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. She was hired on as a member of the ski patrol at Arizona Snowbowl, where she worked on the mountain for two seasons.
McGeary’s desire to help people was her driving force to become a medic, and joined the Arizona Army National Guard, where she left for Army basic training and advanced individual training (AIT) in April 2014.
“I like it when people feel comfortable telling you what they need,” she said. “I like to be the one that people can come to and help make their day better,” McGeary said about her decision.
For many Soldiers basic and AIT is enough of a challenge to get through mentally and physically. During her training period, McGeary experienced tragic loss that would test her ability to persevere.
“When I was at basic training a close family friend of ours committed suicide on the 4th of July, said McGeary.”
News of the friend’s suicide was difficult for her. She was already coping with the loss of another close friend from a fatal motor vehicle accident a year prior to her enlistment.
Pushing through the loss, she completed basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, and headed to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
“I went to AIT and I was kind of down,” said McGeary. “I was trying to stay resilient and stay positive because of that setting.”
McGeary’s faith and strength in her pursuits would continue to be tested with another tragedy. Eighteen days after her friend committed suicide, an airplane her brother was piloting crashed in Sedona, Arizona, killing him and three of McGeary’s best friends who were passangers.
“You’re trying to do well,” she said. “You’re trying to learn, but then when my brother’s accident happened ... I just kind of sat there thinking this can’t be real.”
The next morning McGeary was accompanying a fellow Soldier who had a medical appointment when the accident became a reality for her.
“I actually saw it play on the news,” said McGeary. “That’s when it really sunk in.”
McGeary was able to leave AIT for a few days to be with family and attend her brother’s and a friend’s funerals.
After returning to Fort Sam Houston to complete AIT, she said she was experiencing the lowest point in her life.
McGeary said she tried to keep herself extra busy. Looking at the positive aspects of her situation and using it as a character-building experience.
“I think about all the people I can relate to now who have had that hard time,” she said. “I can console them and give them advice.”
With perseverance accompanied by the support of family, her church members and senior leadership, she graduated AIT as a combat medic in October 2014 and was assigned to the 850th Military Police Battalion.
Upon her return a few months later, she was hired on as a detention officer of the Sheriff Department in Flagstaff.
Even after such personal family tragedy, McGeary is still driving forward with her career in law enforcement, the National Guard, and of course snowboarding.
McGeary continued to snowboard when she returned from her National Guard training, winning The Grand Canyon Free Ride Series in the Slope Style for her age bracket which earned her enough points to compete in the USASA National Championships.
“Nationals is the peak to where, if you’re going to go farther in snowboarding, that’s where it’s going to start,” said McGeary. “People who compete in the Olympics start in the USASA.”
After sharing her story and snowboarding for several hours, it was time to head down the mountain. For McGeary, the excitement of snowboarding and pushing her limits is exhilarating. Her responsibilities as a detention officer and commitment to her state and country as a combat medic keep her grounded.
“I like the feeling of being on the edge of knowing you’re in control but knowing a lot could go wrong,” said McGeary. “It’s an adrenaline rush of riding that edge.”