SFC Sualauvi Tuimaleali’ifano III was born in American Samoa and was relocated to Oahu, Hawaii at the age of six. Tuimaleali’ifano’s parents were both pastors who raised him and his siblings with firm Christian values as well as strong ties to their Samoan heritage. Tuimaleali’ifano stayed active throughout his childhood, having been heavily involved with the church. Tuimaleali’ifano was constantly occupied with sports practices, cultural dance lessons, and choir rehearsals. During high school, he played football, basketball, soccer, competed in wrestling and track and field, as well as a few clubs. By the time Tuimaleali’ifano graduated from Farrington High School in 1997, he had made the decision to enlist in the United States Army.
Tuimaleali’ifano found that he thrived on the structure and discipline that the Army offered him; the conditions that he grew up in taught him valuable lessons and he developed a sense of adaptability and strength that allowed him to excel above fellow recruits. During his time as a CA Specialist in the Special Operations Command, Tuimaleali’ifano was given the privilege to engage with organizations and communities from all around the world to improve the lives of civilians in the region he was assigned and increase stability by training and enabling local governments.
Tuimaleali’ifano was deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2004 with a Signal Unit, and to Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007 with Special Forces Units. In July of 2007, just a month before the end of his third deployment, Tuimaleali’ifano was severely wounded from a prior injury that was never properly diagnosed. Weeks later, he awoke to no sensation in his body from the waist down and was flown to Germany, where the surgery he received resulted in loss of sensation and function from his chest down. Tuimaleali’ifano spent a week in the ICU before being transferred to James Haley VA hospital in Tampa, Florida. There, he received multiple surgeries and rehabilitation care before being transferred to Atlanta, Georgia where he would undergo an intense three month rehabilitation program. Tuimaleali’ifano returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in May 2009 and requested a transfer to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii to be with his family for his impending medical retirement. Tuimaleali’ifano regards this time in his life as especially difficult, having returned home deeply depressed and broken mentally, physically and spiritually.
In 2014, Tuimaleali’ifano was introduced to the Warrior Games, an event centered around competitive adaptive sports for injured active duty service members and veterans. Tuimaleali’ifano was part of team SOCOM in the Warrior Games from 2014 to 2020; as an athlete and competitor from 2015 to 2018, as an ambassador for team SOCOM in the Warrior Games of 2019, and as a coach for Wheelchair Rugby in 2020. He was also chosen to represent team USA in the Invictus Games as the first recorded tetraplegia in 2016, in Disney World, Orlando, Florida, where they won the gold medal for Wheelchair Rugby against UK, and in 2018 in Olympic Park, Sydney, Australia. Not only did adaptive sports give him the purpose he had been searching for since his injury, but it also provided Tuimaleali’ifano the opportunity to spend time with his children doing things he had always planned, including taking them on trips and showing them the world. More than anything, adaptive sports gave him the opportunity to prove to himself that despite his injury and the hardships he had faced, he was still able to be a great husband, father, and provider.