Retired US Marines sergeant Alex Nguyen can’t wait to get home and hand his Invictus Games Sydney 2018 gold medal to his seven year-old son.
“All my medals somehow end up in his room these days,” 30-year-old Nguyen said after the USA beat the Netherlands 29-17 in the wheelchair basketball final on Saturday.
“So I’ll be proud to put this one there to let him know he can achieve anything regardless of what happens.”
The basketball final was the last event after eight days of competition, in 13 sports, by 500 service men and women from 18 countries to complete the fourth Invictus Games.
Earlier the United Kingdom overpowered the New Zealand team 32-6 to claim the bronze.
It was a particularly poignant moment for Nguyen, who was medically retired from the Marine Corps in 2015 – four years after losing his right leg in an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan, where he was a combat engineer.
This is his second Invictus Games and likely to be his last – ending a journey that had its beginnings on a desert patrol.
His vehicle exploded when it hit the IED and it shattered both his ankles.
“The right one was really bad and it got to the point where they (doctors) said ‘You either live with pain and be on pain medication or you can amputate and have somewhat of a normal life’.
“At the time my son was only six months-old. So I wanted to play sports with him and get around with him so I made the decision to amputate.”
After leaving the military, Nguyen started a Psychology degree at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.
“Some of our coaches here (at the Sydney Games) today got me into a chair and taught me the finer points of wheelchair basketball.
“Now I play ball, I mean wheelchair basketball, back in college where I am now.
“I want to go into abnormal psych study to help other vets with PTS (post traumatic stress) and TBI (traumatic brain injury) and other anxieties,” he said.
“I feel having been there I can really help some others.
“So I don’t think I’ll go to a third (Games) as by then I should be done with college and have a ‘big boy’ job by then.”
Nguyen was valuable to the USA team in Saturday’s wheelchair basketball final, being on the scoresheet several times.
He has two moments from the win over the Netherlands tucked into his memory bank.
“The first is our captain Mat (Grashen). He was sick and couldn’t play but he came and sat on the bench with us for the last couple of minutes.
“Having him back was so nice. The second thing was hearing the crowd chant U-S-A. That’s a pretty good feeling.
“Our number one goal was the Netherlands number 11, Marc (van de Kuilen). He’s very good so we needed to lock him down and try to keep him out (of key) so he couldn’t score.”
The last 30 seconds of the match the capacity Quaycentre crowd was on its feet cheering. As cool as a Dutch winter, van de Kuilen sunk a three-pointer to edge the Netherlands closer but it was too late.
Earlier the UK team rocketed to a 19-0 lead at halftime. The Kiwis appeared stunned but they managed to score first in the second half… again too late to make a difference.
But when the full-time buzzer sounded, the UK players went over to hug the New Zealanders.
“This has a different camaraderie from other sporting activities,” said Kiwis basketball captain Rovert Graham.
“We work in a vocation where we put our life on the line, and we’ve all got an understanding of what we go through during those periods.
“To come here, have a bit of a release on the court and at the same time embrace each other it’s something that you never experience (elsewhere).”
Margie McDonald and Jeff Dickinson-Fox
Invictus Games Sydney 2018