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USO Sponsors Recovering Soldier on South Pole Expedition

Friday, April 19, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

Margaux Mange has climbed a mountain and leaped out of airplanes. So it may be surprising to hear about the one thing she feels could give her trouble on her upcoming expedition to the South Pole.

She’s concerned about the mittens.

“The only thing that as Americans we’re going to have to get used to is mittens,” she said. “We’re so used to five-fingered gloves. ... You can’t grasp [things].”

Mange is one of the four wounded, ill and injured American troops who comprise Team USA in the Walking With The Wounded 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge. The USO is sponsoring Mange’s entry as part of its Warrior and Family Care initiative.

The mittens situation could be a problem when the temperature is far below freezing and she needs to pitch a tent.

“We were fine [removing our mittens] in Iceland, but in the South Pole, we’re probably going to get frostbite,” she said, laughing.

Team USA will face off with Team U.K. and Team Commonwealth (comprised of recovering troops from Canada and Australia) in a 16-day, 208-mile race through the South Pole. The teams held March practice drills in Iceland and will gather for final snow training in October before flying to Antarctica in November for the race.

Mange – a medically retired military police sergeant who turns 28 next week – lives with a constant, complex headache caused by a December 2006 roadside bombing in Iraq. It took her three years to come to terms with the unceasing headaches, which she describes as a six out of 10 on the pain scale on her best days. Along with suffering a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, Mange also lives with two rare nerve-related injuries – trigeminal and occipital neuralgia – which she describes as “constant, 24/7, softball-being-shoved-in-the-back-of-my-head pain.”

Brain surgery was unsuccessful and while hyperbaric oxygen treatment had a positive effect, it did not relieve the pain as much as Mange or her doctors hoped. Today, she gets by on migraine medication, quarterly Botox shots and a remarkably positive attitude.

“It took me three years to accept it and say ‘there’s no getting over this, so deal with it,’” she said.

Dealing with it meant getting back to her outdoor roots. Mange grew up in the snow of Lakewood, Colo., skiing and snowboarding when she saved up enough money for a lift ticket. In the warmer months, she played soccer well enough to attract college scholarship offers. But when she learned she’d have to sit out her freshman year as a redshirt, she took an unexpected turn to military service.

“It was a last-minute decision,” she said. “I learned that I was going to get redshirted. You tell an 18-year-old that they can’t play for a year and that’s like the end of the life.

“The Army had the All-Army Women’s Soccer team, which could lead to the Olympics, and I was like ‘sign me up.’”

Mange joined the Army in August 2003 and was on her second tour in Iraq when her vehicle hit an improvised explosive device while she was riding in the gunner’s turret. Convinced she was only suffering from a concussion, Mange continued to go out on convoys until March 3, 2006, when she witnessed another IED blast kill her best friend, Army Sgt. Ashly Lynn Moyer, and two others. Mange developed Bell’s palsy after the blast – a condition she’s since overcome – and was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for further evaluation.

Medically retired in late 2008, Mange adopted a therapy dog – a husky named Mush – to help her get through newly intimidating social situations. As she slowly grew to accept her injury, she became involved in sports again, including cycling tours with USO partner Ride 2 Recovery.

“I love Ride 2 Recovery. They’ve given me a new passion,” she said. “I was so afraid to ride a bike because I thought it was going to hurt my neck – and it does. I fall a lot. I actually ended up in the hospital with a concussion. But it’s OK. I don’t care because I’m having fun and it’s getting me away from my depression. It’s fun and it’s worth it.”

Mange recently moved to Yuma, Ariz., where she’s training for her third Warrior Games, scheduled for May 11-16 in Colorado Springs, Colo. She plans to represent the Army in the women’s’ 100-, 200- and 1,500-meter races in track and the women’s’ 10K cycling event.

But the highlight of the year may come in November, when she heads to the South Pole for the Walking With The Wounded adventure.

“It’s still unbelievable to me that I’m going to be going where so [few] people have had the chance to go,” said Mange, who participated in last year's Soldiers to Summit’s trek up Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador. “I’ve always done adventure-type things. I’ve always done skydiving and bungee jumping. This is a perfect fit for me.”

* * *

Photo caption: Medically retired Army Sgt. Margaux Mange – who participated in four Ride 2 Recovery challenge races last year – will be traveling to the South Pole for the Walking With The Wounded 2013 South Polie Allied Challenge. The USO is sponsoring Mange, who is a member of Team USA. (Photo courtesy of Margaux Mange) 

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