BREMERTON, Wash. —
In 2009, Sgt. Jason Steinmetz and his team were ambushed during a patrol along the Pech River Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
Steinmetz suffered permanent nerve damage to the right side of his body as a result of the attack and was medically retired. He earned a Purple Heart because of his injuries and is rated 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
After leaving the Army, he wasn’t done serving, and in 2015, following brief employment as a battery salesman and ski patroller, Steinmetz joined the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility Code 105.3, Radiological Monitoring Division apprentice program. Today he is a radiological controls technician focused on training others, constantly working to improve the performance of his team.
Looking at him now, you’d never know Steinmetz experienced a life-changing injury just 11 years ago, and in November, he will compete in the Ultra World Championship Spartan Race in Sweden, tackling more than 30 miles of challenging, mountainous terrain and 120 obstacles.
He began running races after he left the Army, essentially starting from scratch to rebuild endurance and get back into shape after completing his recovery.
“I’d done races before, usually half marathons and things like that, but I wanted something more challenging,” he explained. “In any of these groups, there’s a real comradery, and even just with running, which is a solitary sport, you still have a lot of comradery, which is nice because it’s similar to when you’re serving [on active duty].”
He encounters plenty of other disabled veterans along the way, too.
“You’ll see them a lot,” he said. “Sometimes they’re in full kit or body armor, and even gas masks, and they’ll be helping guys go through the course in that gear. I’ve seen people who are missing one or both legs, and I encountered one guy in Ohio who was completely blind. If they can do it, I have no reason to complain.”
Steinmetz completes four to seven Spartan races a year, and says he’ll throw in a few half marathons here or there to keep himself conditioned. He has completed races around the country in Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Ohio and Texas. Even so, the competition in Sweden will be intense.
“They’ve really upped the ante. You have to do a minimum of 30 miles [six five-mile loops] and the most mileage wins. It’s 2,000 feet of vertical gain per five-mile loop, plus all the obstacles.”
At the shipyard, Steinmetz isn’t boastful of his off-duty achievements.
“I don’t talk too much about the races unless someone else has a Spartan shirt on, or they ask about my Spartan Race hat or something,” he said. “A lot of my coworkers also probably don’t even realize half my body is covered in scars, it’s not something I try to emphasize.”
He said the mental fortitude developed during his time in the Army serves him well when he’s training and racing, and that positive affirmations go a long way, especially early in the year when many are making New Year’s resolutions.
“People get discouraged,” he said. “I see that a lot this time of year, when people are trying to lose weight or get into running or whatever it is. They second guess themselves, or tell themselves they can’t do it. What you tell yourself is what happens. If you say you can’t do it, then you won’t. Have that optimism. Nothing is unachievable, you just have to work at it. You’ll realize in the end it will feel so much better if you really worked for it.”