Name: Rosemary Salak
Branch of Service: Army

QL+ Challenges:  

Handcycle Leg Carrier (The George Washington University):  Rosemary enjoys cycling across the country (countries) on a handcycle. When cycling, she removes her prosthetic leg because it gets in the way of the front wheel when turning. On short bike rides, being without the prosthetic leg has been inconvenient but has not caused significant problems. It is more of an issue on longer rides for reasons spanning from bathroom breaks to fallen trees blocking the bike path.  Sometimes, she uses bungee cords and assistance from “two-legged” fellow-cyclists to strap the prosthetic to the back of her bike seat. She would like a way to conveniently carry her prosthetic leg on her handcycle. The proposed solution should be easily implemented with no help from others and should secure the leg in a manner that does not pose any interference with the safe operation of the handcycle. She would also like to have a cover for the prosthetic leg in the case of a downpour (the computer chip in the prosthetic doesn’t like rain!).

Surf Transfer (Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering):   Rosemary has a waterproof prosthetic leg that can be used in sand and water, however, it is not very functional for romping in the surf and for casual swimming, so she prefers to not use it. When she goes to the beach, she relies on friends to physically support her as she enters and exits the surf, hopping on one leg. The solution ought to provide a way for her to more gracefully get into and out of the surf.

Why did you join the Army?   I would love to tell you some great patriotic reason...but the truth is, I walked into the wrong room during Freshman year at college; they were giving an orientation on the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), they were showing slides of rappelling and river rafting.  It looked like great fun and a Sergeant Major convinced me I should sign up for ROTC. That was the first year they permitted women to join ROTC.  I signed up for the ROTC classes and extracurricular activities but even then, I had no plans to join the Army. I was set on joining the Peace Corps.

In ROTC I loved the "hiking", rappelling, river rafting, "camping", and I took up skydiving.  There were only 3 women in ROTC so we really faced opposition and had to prove ourselves.  As I neared graduation with college debt hanging over my head, I decided I would join the Army for a couple of years and pay off my debt before serving with the Peace Corps.

I was the first woman commissioned through ROTC at North Carolina State University (the other two women decided against serving).  That began my journey of many firsts for women in the military.  The Army gave me the opportunity to be a trailblazer and overcome many challenges.  I had incredible opportunities for significant responsibility to make a difference and contribute to our nation. 

I found it challenging and rewarding so two years turned into 23.  I am the 3rd generation to serve; my grandfather served in WWI and WWII, and my father served in Vietnam. 

I survived 23 years in the Army only to be hit by a car after I retired from the Army.   My left leg had to be amputated above the knee to save my life.  At age 50 I didn’t expect I would be in a position of learning how to walk.  I had divorced four years prior and was a single parent and still had to work so I adjusted to my new normal fairly quickly with the expert help of professionals at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Since 2009, I have been serving as a civil servant with the Department of Defense (DoD) and currently am the Disability Program Manager for a DoD agency where I have an opportunity to give back. I assist the agency in removing barriers to access and providing accommodations such as assistive technology to those with disabilities so our nation can benefit from the talent this population offers. I also assist individuals with disabilities in obtaining employment in DoD.
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How will the QL+ devices the students are creating, improve your quality of life?  The carrier students are making for my handcycle will allow me to transport my prosthetic leg on cycle rides.  I don’t wear the prosthetic when riding because it interferes with the steering. When I rode across Europe for a week, I had to bungee cord my prosthetic leg to the cycle and hope it did not fall off and that it would not rain which could ruin the prosthetic. Another group of students is working on a sand and waterproof cover for my prosthetic which will enable me to walk along the surf and other environments that would otherwise be bad for my prosthetic limb.  Currently, I reluctantly forego such opportunities or I wrap plastic bags over my prosthetic.  The cover will be lightweight, compact, and easy to don and remove so I can always carry it with me and be ready for any opportunity.

What has it been like so far, working with QL+ students and participating in the program? I love it!  The students are bright, curious, enthusiastic, and committed to using their talents to make the world a better place. They are truly inspiring.

Do you have any words of wisdom for our QL+ Students?  Stay curious...and always ask the question, whatever it is.  When you don’t ask the question, the answer is always no.

If you were writing a book about yourself, what would be the title?  Seeking the Next Adventure!

The goal of our Challenger Salute is to honor the service and sacrifice our Challengers made for our country.  We are very grateful that they have agreed to participate in our program.  They are providing our students with real-world experience and arming them with the tools they need to succeed once they graduate.