The first person to step over the start line at the 27th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March was the last person to finish. Kirk Bauer, an above-the-knee amputee began the march at about 7:25 a.m. and endured 26.2 miles of sinking sand, rolling hills and the chill of night when he crossed the finish line at approximately 10 p.m. White Sands Missile Range leadership and a group of 30 volunteers and fans cheered him in as the course officially closed down behind him. The 2016 Bataan was 68-year-old Bauer’s eighth Bataan Memorial Death March.
“I hit a wall twice,” said Bauer. “First at mile 16 and then again at mile 21, but I kept going because I knew I had to finish. Everyone who does Bataan has someone who inspires them. For me this year, it was Retired Army Sgt. Ian Parkinson.”
Parkinson was an infantryman who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 when an improvised explosive device took both of his legs one day when he was returning from a patrol, Bauer said. He endured 24 surgeries and two years of intense physical therapy to learn how to walk again using prosthetics. Parkinson is one of over 10,000 wounded warriors and family members served by Disabled Sports USA’s Warfighter Sports rehabilitation program of which Bauer is the executive director for the charity.
“I am not sure the ordinary marcher understands what physical effort the Bataan Memorial Death March entails for these warriors,” said Bauer. “Studies in which Disabled Sports USA was involved in the 1980s show that a double above-the-knee amputee like Ian expends 200 percent to 300 percent more energy conducting the same activity as a non-disabled person. This means that he had to train for two or three Bataan marches to make it through the course. And he did it without the help of walking aides like walking sticks or fore arm crutches. As an above-the-knee amputee, I always use walking sticks when hiking and could not really do that activity without them. So the fact that Ian was able to do so attests to his efforts at getting extremely fit and strong.”
Bauer is a combat veteran who lost his leg when he was hit by a grenade in 1969 while deployed fighting in the Vietnam War. He was awarded two Bronze Stars for heroism and is the recipient of the Purple Heart. While Bauer underwent seven operations in one year and painful physical therapy, he started to give up hope. But one weekend he went skiing, a favorite past time, and his hope was restored. He returned back to physical therapy with a new goal of getting strong enough to do all of the sports he loved to do before his injury. Disabled Sports USA was the charity by his side to facilitate that goal.
Today, as the executive director of Disabled Sports USA, Bauer is able to motivate thousands of wounded warriors to complete their physical therapy and then adapt sports to warriors with disabilities so they can develop independence, confidence and fitness through participation in community sports, recreation and educational programs. Bauer said his organization, headquartered near Washington D.C. with 124 chapters in 42 states, offers severely injured veterans more than 30 sports to include skiing, snowboarding, biking, scuba diving, surfing, rock climbing, archery, equestrian and water skiing.
One of Bauer’s favorite sports is mountain climbing and he was privileged to lead a team of amputee veterans on a successful summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010 at 19,341 feet, which is the highest mountain in Africa. In 2015, he led an all-wounded veteran team up to Mount Aconcagua, which is 23,000 feet, and is the tallest mountain in South America.
Bauer said Bataan is a qualifier for warriors to complete in order to do the mountain climbs. The event is perfect because it is an extreme event that tests the human body, especially for amputees.
In 2005, when the wounded warriors approached Bataan organizers about doing the grueling march, there were some people who thought the course, especially the high altitude and sinking sand would be just too much of an obstacle for amputees.
“We welcomed the wounded warriors to participate, but we never thought we would see them achieve the goals they have accomplished,” said Steve Zagar, WSMR chief of Family and Morale, Welfare, Recreation. “They continue to amaze us every year with their strength, determination and positive attitudes.”
“White Sands Missile Range has rolled out the red carpet for us wounded warriors and the event is something that we all look forward to every year,” said Bauer. “Bataan is a goal for wounded warriors in physical therapy. Training for Bataan puts them into overdrive because they now have a goal to achieve. Once they complete Bataan, many of them are ready to return to active duty or return back home to go to school or continue their lives post injury.”
Editor’s Note: Disabled Sports USA participates in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC #10151). The combined administration and fundraising costs for the organization are 11.8 percent.