RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Retired Army Sgt. Monica Southall recalls the day in Afghanistan when her life changed forever.
“I was on top of one of the MRAP trucks doing inventory, and I remember my soldier coming to me: ‘Hey, Sergeant Southall, come here for a second.’
“I was like, ‘Okay, just one second,’ and before I could even get to him, I heard it — I heard the bomb. I saw it and I tried to get off the truck and I fell, and that was pretty much my memory of that day.”
During the incident in September 2009, Southall suffered injuries to her knees, shoulder and spinal cord. She has had 27 surgeries since the bombing occurred.
Still, the Henrico County native has no regrets about her decision to serve.
“It was something I am very proud to say — that I served and I was able to do my part to keep America safe,” she said. “If I wasn’t medically retired, I could have stayed in the Army. Unfortunately, my injuries were too severe… I was hoping to do 20 years, and if I had a chance to go back to Iraq or Afghanistan — even now —I would still go.”
Before joining the Army, Southall was an athlete in high school.
“Sports have always been very important to me. When I came back from Afghanistan, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to play the sports I was able to prior to leaving,” she explained.
Adaptive sports, though, gave Southall a chance to keep competing, and she took advantage of it, winning five gold medals in sitting volleyball, shot put and discus at the Warrior Games and Invictus Games, alongside other wounded servicemen and servicewomen.
“Sometimes you need an outlet or you need something — a reason to get up. And the Games to me were a reason to get up every morning and train hard and just try and do my best to compete — not only in life but in the Games as well.”
And now, she continues to share those lessons with other athletes as a coach.
“I love giving back. I love being able to show other soldiers what I have learned through the Games and what I’ve experienced and what I’ve been through and also just pass on anything that I have learned as a soldier medically as well,” Southall said.