Inaugural Warrior Games Set to Wrap Up
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 14, 2010 The inaugural Warrior Games at the Olympic Training Center here will draw to a close this evening, leaving in their wake a few hundred happy, but very tired troops, family members and volunteers.
Marine Corps Warrior Games athlete Sgt. Michael Blair and Maj. Susan Stark, head coach for the Marines Corps team, celebrate their service’s gold medal victory in seated volleyball with Blair’s 4-year-old daughter, Bella, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 13, 2010. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Graham J. Benson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The week-long series of games drew enthusiastic crowds and reached the level of intensity in the gold medal matchups equal to that of the actual Paralympics, officials said.
“I walked in there and it was dripping with intensity. The game was unbelievable,” said Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “The crowd, the emotion -- it was just phenomenal. Everything we wanted it to be.”
For the past week, about 200 servicemembers from across the Defense Department competed as individuals and in teams in Paralympic Olympic-style events such as shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling, track, wheelchair basketball, discus, and shot put.
They also competed individually for the "Ultimate Champion" competition in a pentathlon format, and the service team’s rallied for a rotating Chairman's Cup. Those awards will be presented at the closing ceremony tonight.
The much-anticipated games were announced at the Pentagon only months ago by the Army and its partner, the U.S. Paralympics. The two organizations, along with other partners, quickly through together the financial and logistical support requirements of bringing those troops to the U.S. Olympic Training Center here, along with many of their wounded warrior units’ cadre and medical staff. The services quickly recruited their athlete candidates.
Despite the somewhat rushed start, the games proved to be a hit with the athletes, families and volunteers. Already officials are making plans for next year’s games, and talking of bringing in international competitors.
“This exceeded my wildest expectations,” said Army Brig Gen. Gary H. Cheek, commanding general of the Army’s Warrior Transition Command. “I didn’t know that we’d have that kind of emotion and the size of the crowds that are here,” he added.
Officials hope that this year’s event will spawn year-round efforts at the wounded warrior units to train for the annual competition. It is an effort, they said, to encourage wounded servicemembers to use sports in their recovery programs.
“What we’re really looking for is that energy to go back to our units where these servicemembers are recovering and spread that fire. … That’s really what this is all about,” Cheek said.
Cheek said next year’s event will include more sophisticated preparation, including qualifying competitions held at a regional level.
“There’s going to be a lot more focus and energy toward this final event,” he said. “Doing it 52 weeks of the year instead of one week a year is what we’re really after.”
Cheek said wounded servicemembers early on sometimes focus too much on their injuries and what they can’t do. These games helped them focus on what they can do, he said.
“They found within themselves things that they didn’t know were there, and that’s what this is all about,” he said. “In the end, it’s all about focusing on abilities, not disabilities -- what you can do, not what you can’t do.”
Both Cheek and Huebner said that the energy from being active in sports spills over into the rest of the troops’ lives, making them better spouses, parents and employees.
Huebner said not everyone dreams of becoming a Paralympic athlete, but he that being active is a piece of the rehabilitation puzzle, and sports skills can help them better adapt when they return to their homes.
“We have dreams of winning medals at the games,” he said. “But it’s also the dreams of hitting that homerun in your backyard.”
Huebner said he sees the benefits of integrating physical activity into daily life.
“I see people that have higher self-esteem,” he said. “I see people that have lower secondary medical conditions, I see people who are pursuing education, pursuing employment, [and people who] are motivated.”