Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences


Sport and Exercise Psychology

Committee Chair

Kristen Dieffenbach

Committee Co-Chair

Emily Jones

Committee Member

Aaron Moffett

Committee Member

Andrea Taliaferro

Committee Member

Valerie Wayda


Background/Purpose: To explore the lived experiences of active duty service members with acquired disabilities that participated in an elite military sport program to gain an enhanced perspective on how elite sport programming influences self-identity post injury. Methods: A phenomenological approach was employed, using a three phase semi-structured interview protocol to capture military journeys of four (4) service members who had sustained a physical disability as the result of a combat injury and chose to remain on active duty status as a part of a specialized unit designed to prepare service members for the Paralympics. Results: Three themes were identified with implications on the saliency of the service members' identities. These were (a) goal orientation, (b) champions through transition, and (c) the unit. Participants reported that participation in the specialized unit provided new challenges and opportunities, inspired both athletic and military goals and provided the opportunity to continue to serve. Conclusion: Concepts self-determination theory (STD) were evident across the participants' accounts of their military careers. The findings portray a group of highly self-determined service members, who throughout the course of their military journey experienced a strong sense of competence, relatedness and autonomy. The elite military sport program provided infrastructure required to foster the salience of a service member identity.