The 2009 DAV Freedom Award is presented to Portray Woods of Indianapolis.
Every year, one participant is chosen for The Disabled American Veterans Freedom Award for outstanding courage and achievement. This award is given to the veteran whose outstanding courage and achievement is an example to all disabled veteran athletes. The award recognizes the veteran who excels while taking a giant step forward in their rehabilitation process. This is the veteran who proves to the world that physical disability does not bar the doors to freedom.
Woods is a soldier whose energy, enthusiasm and spirit were inspirational to coaches, volunteers and—most importantly—fellow participants.
Like the majority of Winter Sports Clinic participants, Woods is someone whose very survival defied all odds.
On April 18, 2004, this medically-retired Army Sergeant First Class was serving in the 1st Armored Division on a reconnaissance patrol in Baghdad. He was behind a .50 caliber machine gun when a roadside bomb claimed his right arm and left thumb. He woke up at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center to the sound of his four-year-old daughter singing the song he’d taught her before his deployment – “You Are My Sunshine.”
Woods had suffered the signature injury of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – a Traumatic Brain Injury. He couldn’t walk, talk or see out of his left eye and was told those abilities were likely gone forever. He was paralyzed on his right side. In his heart, the former collegiate basketball player was scared.
But courage requires a warrior to overcome fear. With the support of his family who traveled from all over the country to be with him through every step of his recovery, Woods fought tirelessly through an intensive rehabilitation program. In time he was talking again, and walking, and pushing himself to beyond the limitations his multiple injuries had caused.
In 2008, Woods attended his first National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. The event reaffirmed the tremendous strides he’d taken in recovery. He quickly picked up downhill skiing, cross country skiing and other events. He joined DAV Chapter 52 in Indianapolis and continued to rapidly advance and exceed expectations throughout his recovery there at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center.
This year, he again showed the courage of a warrior in every event. He lead by example. His contagious optimism shone upon every participant he encountered like the ray of sunshine his daughter sang about when he woke up after his injury.
“No matter who you are, when you meet this young man you’re going to be inspired,” said DAV National Commander Raymond Dempsey. “Portray is a fighter and a survivor who embodies the warrior spirit. And if you talk with him for more that a minute, he’s going to have you smiling. He’s a special young man and a prime example of what the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is all about.