First Meeting - VA Salt Lake City Health Care System
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First Meeting

First Meeting

Veteran Michael Solano celebrates with his family after his Gold Medal victory.

By Jill Atwood
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Most that experience the National Veterans Wheelchair Games have a memory that stands out; a something special that they witnessed or a Veteran’s story that resonates. 

For VASLC Social Worker Annika Smith that memory is meeting one of her patients for the first time.  Annika has been treating Veteran Michael Solano for two years, but never in person.  Michael lives in Brighton, Colorado and does his PTSD work with Annika via telehealth.  He was slated to compete for the first time in Dallas last year, but for personal reasons ended up coming home early.  The whole experience left a bad taste in his mouth, but it was
Annika who encouraged him to keep at it. 

“I am trying to show my family that I won’t quit.  And she said it was my time to start a new chapter and to get in there and give it one more shot.  She believed in me,” says Solano.

Annika’s support combined with his progress in therapy led to something quite magical during the SLC games. Michael traveled from Brighton Colorado to Salt Lake City with his wife, son and daughter.  It was there on Wednesday night, in the Salt Palace, in front of his family and his therapist that he took gold in powerlifting!

“It added more pressure, but it made me more in tune and I wanted to do well. For my wife, I still want to be her Superman and then to see someone that cares that much to come see me on her own time, someone that I have a connection with over a screen.  It was awesome.”

Annika says it was so rewarding to see Michael outside of therapy so comfortable in his environment, to see him happy and thriving with his family close-by to cheer him on. 

 “I saw him right away.  I knew exactly who he was.  After they got their instructions from the officials, we met for the first time. I think he was really quite touched. We hugged,” remembers Smith.

Later that week, Michael won a silver medal in shotput, second only to a former Paralympian. 

“Recreation Therapy is so valuable to a Veteran’s recovery. It is amazing the impact it has on them,” says Solano. “I love Salt Lake City and the people.  Everything was perfect from the moment I got up until the moment I went to bed and when it came time to kick butt, I did.” 

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