Athlete Spotlight – William "Erik" Crews: Keep Moving Forward
February 27, 2023 | Story by Alyssa Ross | Navy Wounded Warrior
LT William “Erik” Crews (Ret.) comes from a Navy family: his father served for 28 years and his uncle for 20, his brother has been in the Navy for almost 10 years, and his daughter is looking to commission after graduating college.
Crews enlisted in 2002 and rose to the ranks of Aviation Ordnance Chief Petty Officer before earning his commission in 2015. He served for more than 20 years and completed eight combat deployments before retiring in October 2022.
In 2013, while loading weapons on an aircraft during a combat training evolution, Crews fractured four vertebrae and injured his spinal cord. It took him six months to recover. He went on to deploy with the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman in 2015 and to Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia in 2018. Upon his return from the second deployment, doctors found that he’d ruptured discs in the same region of his previous injury. This led him on a path to a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB).
While he was in a waiting area at Naval Hospital Pensacola, he had a chance conversation with an airman who mentioned Navy Wounded Warrior and pointed him in the direction of the program’s offices in the medical center. Before leaving that day, Crews stopped in to refer himself to the program.
Navy Wounded Warrior paired him with Recovery Care Coordinator Rhonda Frasure, who reviewed his case and set him up with a liaison for every aspect of his recovery needs.
“She was key to helping me with everything. If I had any questions, she would always be available to answer them.”
She offered him checklists and gave him guidance on what to expect with MEB and PEBLO processes. She connected him with available support resources such as the chaplain’s corps and Navy Wounded Warrior’s own adaptive athletics program.
Before he injured his back, Crews enjoyed running and would sometimes run about 15-20 kilometers a week.
“After injuring my back a second time, I knew I needed to find other options besides running to stay in shape and push myself.”
He first attended an introductory camp in San Diego in April 2022, where he grew to love air rifle and cycling. As part of Team Navy at the 2022 Warrior Games in Orlando, Fla., he earned the Navy’s first medal during competition with a bronze in air rifle.
He came away with so much more, though. The friendships and camaraderie on Team Navy proved to be the best takeaway, both on and off the field.
“Everyone still supports each other and pushes each other to better themselves every day,” he said. “Plus, other teammates had similar experiences to my own, so they were able to help me during my MEB process.”
He also made a lasting connection with Cycling Coach Michael Manning and developed a new love for the sport.
“I used to run and cycling keeps me active and it doesn’t hurt so much.”
Coincidentally, they lived near enough to each other that Manning regularly encouraged Crews to further develop his skills. When Crews will represent Team USA in Dusseldorf, Germany, during the 2023 Invictus Games, he’s most looking forward to competing in cycling.
Looking back on his time with Navy Wounded Warrior, Crews shared some advice for others, “Use everyone around you to gain knowledge about programs and services that are offered to help you through your situation.
“I have friends and peers who are retiring without any guidance from services like Navy Wounded Warrior and it’s a lot to navigate on your own. I’ve been passing along the checklists and things I’ve learned to them. I’ve benefitted a lot. I’m glad I met that airman back in Pensacola.”
About Adaptive Athletics
Fitness and teamwork are a way of life in the military. Serious illness or injury can profoundly impact that way of life, often confining a service member to a hospital bed and significantly altering their physical capabilities.
Adaptive athletics are sports that have been modified to meet the abilities of injured or ill individuals. They help wounded warriors build strength and endurance, while also drawing inspiration from their teammates.
All wounded warriors enrolled in Navy Wounded Warrior are encouraged to include adaptive athletics in their recovery plans to build strength and endurance. Sports also helps build self-esteem, lowers stress levels and prevents secondary medical conditions from developing.
If you are not already enrolled in Navy Wounded Warrior, contact us at 855-NAVY WWP/855-628-9997 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to determine your eligibility. Navy Wounded Warrior hosts a series of adaptive athletic reconditioning camps at naval bases throughout the country that focus on strength training, nutrition and a variety of sports. Active-duty athletes of all ability levels are welcome, with limited space for veterans. The program also involves enrollees in camps hosted by partner organizations and international competitions, such as the Invictus Games.
Numquam Navigare Solus – Never to Sail Alone
Sailors and Coast Guardsmen may self-refer to Navy Wounded Warrior, or be referred by a family member, their command leadership or their medical team. Contact the Navy Wounded Warrior call center at 855-NAVY WWP / 855-628-9997, or email email@example.com.