U.S. Navy veteran Laurie Wood gets in some pregame practice before facing Team Canada in Buffalo, NY. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio
PN Online celebrates the U.S. Navy’s 240 years of service during the month of October and the people who serve
Petty Officer First Class Laurie Wood had every intention of making the U.S. Navy a career – and then she found the world of law enforcement.
The 39-year-old mother of one comes from a long line of military service and chose to follow her brother’s footsteps and enlist into the Navy to carry on the family legacy. Wood suffered a freak T-10/12 spinal cord injury on the job and now talks about her new path and how her time in the Navy helped prepare her for the many challenges of life.
PN Online: Where did you serve?
Wood: My first duty station was Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico … tough, right? Then I was transferred to Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana in Virginia Beach. From there I transferred to the reserves and started working for the Norfolk Virginia Sheriff’s Office full time. During that time, I was mobilized twice after 9/11 as base police in Norfolk and then a year in Afghanistan in 2010.
PN Online: Talk about your military occupation.
Wood: I developed and produced print and broadcast journalism news and feature stories for military and civilian newspapers, magazines, television and radio broadcast stations.
I served overseas, on ships and at stateside commands as a photographer, and Public Affairs Specialist. I absolutely loved my rate and still believe it’s the best job in the Navy. It has its perks – one example is that it afforded me the opportunity to meet the New York Yankees and be in the dugout with them while taking photos.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer Laurie Wood poses with New York Yankee Robinson Cano during her assignment while serving as a mass communication specialist. Photo provided by Laurie Wood.
PN Online: How did you get into the law enforcement profession? Was it a replacement for military service or part of your plans all along?
Wood: I got involved with Base Police that sparked my interest in law enforcement. Since I needed a change of pace, I transferred to the reserves. This way I didn’t have to let go of my Navy career entirely, was able to keep one foot in the door, and I could pursue my second goal as a LEO (law enforcement officer).
PN Online: How did the military help shape the person you are now?
Wood: The military helped me to mature and learn life skills. Honor, courage and commitment will always be ingrained in me. I learned teamwork and how to work for the good of the team, how to divide tasks and how to draw on the diverse talents of each team member. I’m definitely more confident and I learned how to be assertive and how to be a leader. I’ve learned some pretty hard and important truths along the way as well, lessons about myself and about other people, lessons that applied as much at home as they did in the military. Simply put, I’m just a better person for it.
PN Online: Regarding your injury; briefly share the details of how you were injured.
Wood: I was an academy staff instructor with the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office and fell from a building while going over various possible scenarios to train the recruits on. It was a freak accident that changed my life forever and ended my career with the Sheriff’s Office and with the Navy. That sucked. I wasn’t ready to retire.
PN Online: What do you miss most about the Navy?
Wood: I miss the camaraderie and the constant challenges associated with being a Mass Communication Specialist. I was fortunate – yes, I said fortunate – to be able to deploy to Afghanistan to serve my country and travel to amazing places like Vietnam but it’s the extended family you gain. Luckily, I don’t really have to “miss” it as much because that family never let me go. I can still count on them to give me a call whenever there’s a command function, or if someone is in town and just wants to get together, or just to call and say hello and see how I’m doing. Family isn’t always blood and my Navy family had my back before, during and after my injury.
PN Online: What do you miss most about LEO?
Wood: Again, it’s the camaraderie. I also miss how every day was different and a new set of challenges was in front of me. I really miss being an instructor and the feeling I would get when that recruit was finally receiving their hard-earned badge and gun –when they look at you and thank you for pushing them to be their best and realize their full potential; helping them overcome obstacles they didn’t think they’d be able to do and push through those mental and physical barriers. Being part of that process was very gratifying and know that I made a difference in someone’s life.
PN Online: Do you feel your military service helped you better deal with the results of SCI?
Wood: Absolutely! I learned discipline, maturity, adaptability, tenacity, dedication and how to stay calm under pressure and to always give 100%. That’s just to name a few of so many. All of these things helped me push through physical therapy and better accept my “new normal”. Suddenly having a life altering disability and knowing you’ll be in a wheelchair the rest of your life is a tough pill to swallow. I went through a grieving process initially and it took some time, but eventually I was able to take control.
Of course I still have days where it’s tough to see that silver lining, but luckily I have an amazing support system between my family, my Navy family and a handful of true friends that held me up when I couldn’t do it on my own.
It was frightening and confusing and adapting was no easy task but I learned so many ways to cope with it because of the way I was raised, and because of the skills the Navy instilled in me. Some would say I’m a bit, well, stubborn as well, but I like to say I’m delightfully difficult.
PN Online: Since your injury you’ve gone on to build a pretty exciting sledge hockey career. Talk about your history of hockey and what you hope to achieve in the sport.
Wood: I grew up with two older brothers – seven years older and identical twins – who would take me to the pond, along with their friends, and throw me in the goal. Growing up in upstate New York, we had plenty of pond hockey time. Thanks to my big brothers, I also lost my two front teeth the day before Christmas because one of them accidentally – so they say – hit me right in the mouth with a slapshot. My mom would play ‘All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth’ every year after that.
After I returned home from the hospital, my brother, Lenny, got me in touch with the Virginia Beach Hockey Club who just started building a sled hockey team. I was the second person on the team. The first time out on the ice and feeling a breeze in my face again got me instantly hooked. Just to be sure I’d stick with it though, my brothers bought me a set of my own sticks so I’d have to. From there, I went to the National Veterans Winter Sports Clinic and met one of the coaches for the USA Warriors. He invited me to play on their team for a weekend tournament against the Women’s National Sledge Hockey Team. The women’s team coach invited me to play with them for the last two games that weekend. It was certainly a reality check to get my butt training because these women were awesome on the ice and I wanted to be a member of that team.
A few months later, I flew to Minnesota to try out for the women’s team and made the roster. That year we competed in the inaugural International Paralympic Committee World Cup in Canada and won. This is now my second season with these incredible women and I’d love to continue to be a member of the team when we’re finally able to compete in the Paralympics.
PN Online: What’s on the road ahead for you?
Wood: I’m still able to be a firearms instructor with Colonial Shooting Academy and work full time as a QA Analyst with an incredible company, Cape Henry Associates, which is very supportive of me as well.
I wouldn’t be as far as I am and have done as well as I have without my support system and of course the number one man in my life, my 11-year-old son, Gavin. I don’t take anything or anyone for granted and make sure the people in my life know that I love and appreciate them. I’ve transitioned from focusing on what I can’t do to everything that I can still do. I need to be a good role model for my son and show him first hand what overcoming adversity is all about.
Gallery photos provided by Laurie Wood and PN Online file photos.
See our interview with Laurie Wood on the ice during the National Veterans Winter Sports Clinic