For many of us, our careers define a lot about who we are. But when something happens to take that career away, as it did in the case of Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Troha, it becomes an opportunity to pursue new challenges.
Troha has been an intelligence specialist at the Coast Guard Cryptologic Unit Texas in San Antonio since 2008, when he became part of the new intelligence specialist position and worked in the United States, as well as being deployed to assist cutters on the front lines of Coast Guard missions.
“I like working with puzzles,” Troha said. “Intelligence analysis is like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle, but there are 1,200 pieces and you have to figure out which 200 pieces don’t fit.”
However, a rare genetic disorder snuck up on Troha in the middle of his Coast Guard career, making him unable to continue his dream job.
“The first thing that I felt I lost was my identity,” Troha said. “You do something for so long, whatever that may be, and then you find out you can’t do it anymore.”
The diagnosis left Troha with degrading motor skills, a discovery that was hard to swallow. He admitted in the first few months it was hard to see a silver lining. What Troha did next though, was decide that a turn of bad luck would not define him.
“I had to go through a lot of different therapies to realize that, ‘Hey, you’re still the same person. You still have your identity; it’s like a speedbump,’” he said.
In his youth, Troha was an accomplished competitive swimmer while studying at Louisiana State University. As walking became more difficult for him, he saw the potential of getting back in the pool to compete. As part of his treatment in San Antonio, Troha met a benefit of the military that many active service members are not aware exists: the Navy Wounded Warrior Safe Harbor program.
Along with offering a litany of useful resources for members going through medical tribulation, the program also assists with entry into the long with offering a litany of useful resources for members going through medical tribulation, the program also assists with entry into the Warrior Games – an event where wounded service members and veterans representing teams from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, among others, compete against one another.
“Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you have to sit on your butt and watch TV and eat Cheetos all day,” Troha said.
He began putting his muscles to the test again, awakening some of them that were not so used to swimming, by joining the U.S. Masters Swimming program. A Masters athlete is anyone 18 years or older that wants to take lessons and compete with others, a group that includes a wide range of skill.
“Rob is a pretty unique individual; I could tell right away even with his disability that he was a strong swimmer,” said Roy Garcia, a Masters coach and Ironman coach in San Antonio. “He’s still working on coordination issues, and I think from talking with him we’re going to work on becoming more coordinated with the butterfly.”
Coupled with his self-motivated training in the pool, Troha is now working to compete against other disabled service members and veterans in the Warrior Games and is competing as a member of the joint Navy/Coast Guard team in field, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming and track events.
“I have four kids; they’re not old enough to know what’s going on,” Troha said. “This is a way I can show them that no matter what you’re dealing with, just keep pushing. Life is going to knock you down. What builds character is to get up and keep fighting."
Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Troha talks to Gianna Davis, a U.S. Masters Swimming coach, during training at George Block Aquatics in San Antonio. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst)
Members of the joint Coast Guard and Navy Warrior Games Team pose for a photo during a training camp Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Troha poses for a photo with other members of the joint Coast Guard and Navy Warrior Games Team during a training camp. (Photo by Jennifer Troha)