Former U.S. Army Reserve Sergeant Keara Torkelson was selected by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) and the Chiefs as the Blue KC Chiefs Kingdom Champion for the Chiefs October 30, 2017, matchup against the Denver Broncos. As part of the Chiefs annual Salute to Service game, Blue KC and the Chiefs honored Torkelson on the field prior to kickoff where she conducted the ceremonial first pass to Shawn Barber.
As a member of the U.S. Army Reserves from 2006-2013, Torkelson was preparing to deploy to Iraq when she was wounded in the tragic shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. Sustaining wounds to the head and back, Torkelson recovered from her injuries and returned to active duty before completing her service. Awarded the Purple Heart in 2015, Torkelson now works to help combat veterans overcome PTSD as a mentor and volunteer with the Kansas City-based Warriors Ascent program.
"It gives me a very fulfilling purpose," said Torkelson, who completed the Warriors Ascent program herself before becoming a mentor. "I want to live the Warriors Ascent logo, which has one soldier carrying another soldier. Sometimes you're able to carry, and sometimes you need to be carried."
Through Warriors Ascent, veterans and first-responders complete a five-day program designed to provide them with the training, tools and community of support to develop healthy living habits needed for long-term healing. The program focuses on a holistic approach to healing the mind, body and soul, empowering cohort members to handle the traumas they have suffered in life and embark on a path of healing that enriches both their life and those of their loved ones.
"Warriors Ascent was life-changing for me," said Torkelson, a native of Olathe, Kan. "They gave me amazing tools to change not only my life, but also my husband and sons' lives. I can be a better mom, wife and person because of what I was given at Warriors Ascent."
And now, her mission is to do the same for others.
As a volunteer, Torkelson participates in cohorts alongside veterans, serving as a mentor and resource for them as they confront the issues of PTSD throughout the week. Torkelson also documents the journeys of the participants through photography, taking pictures at both the beginning and the end of the week so that they can see the physical difference in their demeanor after beginning the healing process.
"I've always loved what the military stood for," said Torkelson. "I joined because I wanted to serve my country. For me, resiliency started at a young age, and the people and circumstances along the way shaped me into who I am today."
For her service, Torkelson also is a recipient of the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, which is awarded in the name of the Secretary of Defense to joint activities for admirable achievement or service—above and beyond what is normally expected—for actions in the following situations: combat with an armed enemy of the United States, a declared national emergency, or under extraordinary circumstances that involve national interests.
"Recognizing someone like Keara is truly an honor for us," said Christina Lively, Blue KC's Department Vice President of Marketing and Communications. "Not only is she a hero for serving her country, but also for continuing to give back through Warriors Ascent. She's making a real difference in the Kansas City community and in a very powerful way. We're honored to recognize her as a Blue KC Chiefs Kingdom Champion."
The recognition was not lost on Torkelson, who was grateful for the opportunity.
"It's definitely an honor to be recognized by Blue KC and the Chiefs," said Torkelson, who was joined by her husband, John, at the game. "I love the Chiefs!"
To nominate a local hero like Keara Torkelson to be recognized as a Blue KC Chiefs Kingdom Champion, visit chiefs.com/bluekc.