Veteran wheelchair curling team.

Army Veteran’s Passion for Sports Highlights Lifetime of Achievements

“A lot of people get depressed, but I never have – still to this day. My life took a different turn to a different path – and now I’m just following it.” – Patrick McDonald

Competing in athletic competitions has always been a significant part of Patrick McDonald’s life. The U.S. Army Veteran’s drive for excellence has pushed him to excel in a multitude of sports throughout his life and reach some of the highest pinnacles while overcoming significant bumps in the road.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Patrick was heavily involved in sports – skateboarding, racing dirt bikes, soccer, motorcycle racing. If there was a sport to try, he always jumped in and participated. Patrick McDonald with supporters.

“I’ve skateboarded with Steve Caballero (professional skateboarder), played semi-pro soccer in Germany for a year – I played everything,” said Patrick, 56, now a resident of Phoenix.

Serving with Honor and Showing Resilience

After high school Patrick proudly enlisted in the Army and was stationed at USAG Yongsan-Camp Casey in Dongducheon, South Korea, as a member of the 19D Cavalry Scout.

During a training exercise on Nov. 15, 1981, the U.S. Army Private First Class (E3) experienced a life-changing injury.

“We were on our way back from patrolling the DMZ and driving an M113 small armored personnel carrier,” Patrick recalled. “I was sitting on the supply box on the way back and the carrier flipped.”

The supply box weighed nearly 1,500 pounds and landed on Patrick, resulting in a broken back that paralyzed him from the waist down. He was medevacked to the 121st General Hospital in Seoul, the Army’s medical treatment facility, with a broken neck and back and then suffered a pulmonary embolism.

“I flat-lined for five-and-a-half minutes and survived,” he shared. Patrick was eventually medevacked back to the U.S. and received care at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center in California.

“Normal rehab back then with caregiving and mental health therapy was six to seven months. I was there for 35 days because I just wanted to get going, keep moving and do the rest of my life,” Patrick shared. “A lot of people get depressed, but I never have – still to this day. My life took a different turn to a different path – and now I’m just following it.”

It was in rehab that his lifelong passion for sports took a new turn.

“During those 35 days I saw posters of wheelchair sports for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America – and I thought ‘I want to do that. Show me how to do that,’” said Patrick, who was medically discharged from the Army following his injury.

After being told that it normally takes a year post-rehab to try out these new sports, Patrick scoffed at that timeline: “I said, ‘I’m going home tomorrow – I’m ready.’”

Pursuit of Excellence

The next chapter of his athletic accolades has since followed.

Patrick attended his first National Veterans Wheelchair Games in 1993 in Dayton, Ohio. “I signed up for five events and got five gold medals and haven’t looked back,” he shared. He competed in every Games event through the 2011 Pittsburgh gathering.

He became one of the first to compete in the wheelchair half-pipe at the X Games and was heavily involved in golf and table tennis.

A crash in the half-pipe gave him a little perspective, however. “After I crashed, I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m a dad, a husband.’” he said.

Patrick briefly became a record holder with the longest golf drive from a seated position with a 358-yard swing. The current Guinness World Record is now 371 yards. He became a golf club designer, gives golf lessons and still maintains a 1.2 United States Golf Association handicap.

Patrick found his true passion when he attended an exhibition for wheelchair curling at the 2007 Wheelchair Games. He fell in love with the Scottish ice sport and aspired to make the national team. Two years later he achieved that goal and competed at the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship as a member of Team USA.Patrick McDonald preparing for the 2026 Paralympic Winter Games in Italy.

In the pursuit of the best training possible, Patrick moved with his wife and two children in 2011 from California to Wisconsin to train at the Madison Curling Club, which has churned out multiple Olympians and Paralympians in the sport. Patrick would go on to compete in four more world championships as well as the 2010 and 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

“Having fellow Veterans alongside me at both Paralympic Games was great, and to have a few of us wearing USA uniforms again was amazing,” he recalled.

Cancer No Match for Army Veteran and Paralympian

In 2016 Patrick would come face-to-face with another huge life challenge – the discovery of cancer after a freak accident in a hotel in Phoenix while in town for a curling competition.

“I was in a hurry and brushing my teeth in the shower and the shower bench that was attached to the wall came away from the wall. I fell and the toothbrush that was in my mouth jabbed the back side of my left jaw,” he said. As weeks passed his mouth was still sore and he had trouble opening it.

He went into the emergency room at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Madison, Wis., and received surprising news – he had a cancerous tumor the size of a golf ball in his soft palate. Due to the location of the tumor, surgery would require splitting his jaw and completely opening up his face.

Patrick and his health team opted to do chemotherapy and radiation. “I remember saying, ‘The next adventure is here. Let’s go.’ My wife, Carrie, smacked me on the arm and told me to take this seriously. I told her we were going to beat it and move on,” he said.

Moving On and Giving Back

And moving on is just what he has done. After relocating with his family to the Phoenix area in 2018, Patrick can be found most days throwing 42 pounds of granite curling stones with an eye on making Team USA in mixed doubles at the 2026 Paralympic Winter Games in Italy.

In addition to his on-ice ambitions, he is very active as a coach for his daughter’s curling team, junior coordinator for the Mountain Pacific Curling Association and an instructor at the Coyotes Curling Club adaptive clinics.Patrick McDonald coaches his daughter’s curling team.

While he doesn’t compete in National Veterans Wheelchair Games anymore, Patrick remains active in and supports the military and Veteran communities, attending sports clinics to hang out with friends and chat with sponsors. He played a key volunteer role in 2022 when the event came to Tempe, Ariz. “We had almost 200 Veteran athletes attend wheelchair curling exhibitions on one day at the Coyotes Curling Club,” he said.

In October 2023, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awarded nearly $16 million in grant funding to increase participation in disabled sports among Veterans and service members with disabilities.

For this proud Veteran, involvement in sports has been invaluable and he hopes others will access VA resources on adaptive sports  and become, or remain, just as invested.

“Completely understand what you can do. Everybody has a different disability and comfort zone – find yours and just go do it,” he said. “You don’t need to listen when people say ‘Are you sure you can do that? Wait, let me help you.’ I know they love you and care for you, but sometimes you can do it yourself. When you do it yourself, you build confidence. Once you have confidence then you can start doing more. Negativity stagnates, positivity generates. Believe in yourself.”

Tell us what you think.

* Required form fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.