Wounded, ill and injured servicemembers from the Warrior Transition Battalion gathered at Pullen Field Feb. 9 to participate in one of several training clinics for the 2012 Warrior Games that run from April 30-May 5 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Warrior Games are hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee and supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, USO, Fisher House Foundation and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
Nearly 60 athletes from around the country traveled from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to engage in track and field training, participating in two qualifying sessions with a lunch break at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. Track athletes were timed in sprints, the 100 meter run and the 150 meter run, and participants in the shot-put and discus threw for distance and accuracy. A high level of competition prevailed throughout the day, with each warrior vying for one of 50 slots on the personnel roster to represent the U.S. Army in Colorado.
"We used to field 100 athletes for the Warrior Games, but the number has been cut down to 50," said Warrior Games spokesman Lt. Col. Keith Williams, Warrior Transition Command, Adaptive Reconditioning Branch. "It was initially 50 for each of the services, but the Navy and Air Force couldn't field 50. So they had 25 each, the Marines had 50, and that allowed the Army to have 100. But this year, the goal is to level the playing field."
Williams added that
additional changes to the Warrior Games qualifying format include requiring athletes to compete in a number of different sports as opposed to specializing in one.
"Everyone here today will do either track and field or swimming," he said. "Even though we had some of our athletes from all of our WTUs come to the camp primarily for swimming, we have to maximize our categories before the Games and we're asking everyone to come out and just give it a chance. If you can run, come out and run. Competing in just one sport is not allowed this year."
Each sport is divided into categories based on the extent of a Soldier's injuries.
"For running, there are the 'above the knee' category and the 'below the knee' category," he said. "Our goal is to give the Soldiers a chance to get out here and see what they can do so they can maximize their opportunities to be in the games. A Soldier who can do more than one sport has a better chance. Many of our Soldiers here do more than one track and field sport, such as running and throwing."
For the athletes themselves, participating in the Warrior Games not only stands as the pinnacle of military athletic achievement for the physically challenged but serves as providing encouragement for wounded and ill servicemembers who are just starting their recoveries.
"It is really, really inspiring to see these guys out here," said retired Staff Sgt. Doug Moore. "I mean, they're amputees, some completely above the knee, but they're running with prosthetics. Again, it's way inspiring."
"I'm really excited about the Games," said Sgt. Jonte Scott, who traveled here from Joint Base
Lewis-McChord, Wash. "I've been in the Army for eight years, and when I found out about this in August, I started training."The Warrior Games have grown in popularity and turnout since the inaugural event in 2010 and wounded Soldiers are increasingly drawn to the competition as they learn of the effectiveness of the training in terms of their physical and emotional recovery.
"It's really gotten bigger and the Warriors compete in a variety of sports: track, swimming, cycling, shooting, archery, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair basketball," said Eric Langer, WTB public affairs officer. "It's just like the Olympics. When your team wins they sing the service song and you're presented with gold, silver and bronze medals. There are opening ceremonies, jet fly-bys, closing ceremonies, a lot of cool stuff. And it's all headquartered at the U.S. Olympics National Training Center in Colorado Springs. The athletes stay in the dorms and eat the food right there at the U.S. Olympic facility."
According to retired Sgt. 1st Class Landon Ranker, training for the Games becomes the primary focus for the athletes throughout the year.
"These athletes train anywhere from four to five months up to a year," he said. "The ones who have done it before have the experience to know to start for preparing for next year's Games as soon as the current event is over."
The training clinics will continue into next month and the 2012 Army team will be selected March 7-13 at Fort Meade, Md.
Additional information regarding the 2012 Warrior Games is available from Cynthia Vaughan, public affairs officer, Warrior Transition Command, (703) 325-0470 or by visiting www.usparalympics.org/news.