Former Lady Bear Raising Money to Realize Paralympic Dream
Sept. 13, 2013
Kinga Kiss-Johnson is a warrior on the battlefield and in life. The former Missouri State Lady Bear and member of Coach Cheryl Burnett's 2001 NCAA Final Four squad sustained a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and injuries to both hips in October of 2007 while deployed to Afghanistan.
The US Army truck she was in crashed while trying to avoid a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device or IED. Kiss-Johnson was the turret acting as the gunner on that mission, and the injuries she sustained that day still affect her mobility, concentration and physical capabilities. She had a vertebrae fused and replaced and her limited range of mobility is a constant reminder of the event and her months of recuperation and rehabilitation.
Since then, she has begun playing basketball and shooting archery from a wheelchair. Now living in Augusta, Ga., she has served notice to other military competitors that she takes the “Army Strong” motto seriously, earning a gold medal in wheelchair basketball alongside her Army teammates in the 2011 Warrior Games . The retired sergeant veteran also competes in track and field events.
These sports have helped give her back a part of her life. Archery allowed Kiss-Johnson to concentrate on "What I can do, not on what I can’t," she explained. "My number one goal is to be the best I can and be a role model for veterans that are still at home after their injuries and don’t know how to or just don’t have the desire to get out and go on."
Crossroads Wounded Warrior Archery Foundation provided Kinga with her first bow. Scott Dault, the organization's founder said Kinga's competitive spirit made her an easy choice to receive the bow. “I was impressed by her fierce determination and competitive spirit," Dault said.
This organization gave Kinga a bow that matched her size and abilities. Upon receipt of the bow, Kinga made a vow to win a gold at the Paralympics. According to Dault, The World Para Archery Championships are in Bangkok, Thailand in November 2013, and that event has major implications on the qualifying field for the 2014 Paralympics games in Brazil.
Now Kiss-Johnson is trying to raise the $6,000 fee necessary to compete in Bangkok. With such a short time to raise the funds, she has turned to the public asking for help. With the help from the Crossroads Wounded Warrior Archery Foundation, a fund has been established at the Bank of Clarendon (P.O. Box 908, Summerton, SC 29148). Help can also be given online.
While she is practicing and saving for her trip to Thailand, Kiss-Johnson is working part-time serving her community and people with disabilities in her community. She is also a volunteer with Champions Made from Adversity, where she teaches and coaches adaptive sports for people with disabilities.
Kiss grew up in a small village in the mountains of Romania, and when her parents wanted a better life for her, they placed her in an athletic school at age 6. At 18, Kinga moved to Hungary where she got involved in sports. She arrived in the US on a basketball scholarship in 1998 at Jefferson Community College in Hillsboro, Mo. She barely spoke English at the time. She was then recruited by Missouri State to play basketball where she made of many memorable moments, including the Final Four.
At 6-foot-7, Kiss was the tallest player in Lady Bears' history at the time. In July 2006, Kinga joined the Army and headed to Afghanistan with the Army’s 173rd Brigade Support Battalion. She later became the tallest service member in her U.S. Army company when she took the oath of citizenship to the United States in 2007 at Bagram Airfield. She spent Veterans Day weekend that year deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and was sworn in to become a U.S. citizen.
“When I walked across the stage, I was in the clouds. To me it was a dream and privilege to become a U.S. citizen,” Kiss-Johnson said.