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Wounded warrior uses weights to lift spirits


Master Sgt. Shannon Cassinelli, 96th Operations Support Squadron, attempts to lift 75 pounds during a training session June 26 in Fort Walton Beach. Cassinelli, an Air Force Wounded Warrior, recently competed in a virtual powerlifting competition for the organization where she pressed 50, 60 and 70 lifts. (Courtesy photo)


Start, Press… Rack!

Those were the commands Master Sgt. Shannon Cassinelli heard from her phone during her three lifts at the Air Force Wounded Warrior’s first-ever virtual powerlifting competition June 19.

Cassinelli, a relative newcomer to the sport, put up 50, 60 and 70-pound presses during her three competitive lifts.

“This being her first tournament, she did a wonderful job,” said Mary Hodge, an AFW2 coach and judge for the competition.

“When I see you next, I want to see 100,” Hodge said encouraging Cassinelli after her 70-pound lift.

Cassinelli, 96th Operations Support Squadron, discovered weightlifting at an AFW2 Care event in January and began weight training in late-March.

“Weightlifting aided in my recovery by improving my physical strength, but more importantly, increasing my self-worth and mental strength,” said the Illinois native.  “It provides an outlet for me and an opportunity to lift with my family.”

Cassinelli said she was not aware of AFW2 until Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Auger, 96th Test Wing command chief, heard her story and introduced her to it in 2019.  The 18-year Airman joined the program soon after to get help with her post traumatic-stress and traumatic brain injuries suffered from sexual assault and domestic violence. 

She now receives care for both PTS and TBI here at the Invisible Wounds clinic.

Jeffery Maberry, her AFW2 recovery care coordinator, said he was concerned for her upon their first meeting, but could see she was driven and had a warrior spirit.  It just took the right resources, support and care for her to begin to excel.  Cassinelli’s progress was such that Maberry recommended her as an AFW2 ambassador, so she could share her story.

“Shannon has the ability and compassion to encourage others to speak out and get the help they need,” he said.  “She definitely redefined her own resiliency and is a role model for others to follow.” 

Those resources and care deeply affected Cassinelli.  It completely changed her life, according to her.

 “I have a support system that will be with me for the rest of my life,” said the deputy airfield manager at Duke Field.  “They’re the ones that see the light at the end of the tunnel for me, when I can’t. They push me to be better.”

Cassinelli said the virtual competition inspired her to push herself.  Now, she trains with a powerlifting coach. Her new goal is to bench press 135 pounds by the Warrior Games trials in early 2021.

For more information on the AFW2 program go to their website.