By Rob McIlvaine, Army News Service
FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Wounded warriors came from as far away as the Pacific northwest to show their stuff on the track and field at Fort Belvoir, and in swimming trials at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
The reason for their trek was to earn a spot to compete in the third year of the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The final selection will happen March 7-13 at Fort Meade, Md., on the track. Cycling, swimming and volleyball competitions will also be held.
For many, it was their first time competing since they were injured — some in combat and others under non-combat conditions.
WITH A LITTLE HELP
Sgt. Jonte Nicole Scott, who works in supply at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., has a 2-year-old dog named Ava who helps her get through emotional trauma suffered during her first deployment to Iraq in 2004.
“I got Ava for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and anxiety through Brigadoon, a service-dog company in Bellingham, Washington,” Scott said. “She was dropped out of police training because she wasn’t aggressive enough.”
When Scott was in high school, she competed in track and was a cheerleader, but hadn’t really done much athletics since, until she participated in the Valor Games in Chicago, Ill. There she competed in shot put and recumbent cycling and power lifting.
World Sport Chicago hosted the inaugural Valor Games Midwest in August 2011. The three-day competition brought more than 100 wounded, ill or injured veterans and active-duty service members to Soldier Field for discus, U.S. Cellular Field for archery and cycling, and McGuane Park for discus, shot put, indoor rowing and powerlifting.
“That was the first time where I got gold in all three, so it was pretty awesome. That’s when I started hearing about the Warrior Games and wanting to participate,” she said.
“I think people should get involved because of the camaraderie and it just makes you feel good to have friends from different places and everyone kind of understands what’s going on with you. They don’t ask questions and no one judges you,” Scott said.
She also hopes to compete in the 100-meter and 200-meter running events.
COACHING SPECIAL ATHLETES
Millie Daniels, who coaches track and field for the Warrior Games, is a 10-year track and field coach at Liberty High School in Bedford, Va. She has also run the Commonwealth Games for the Commonwealth of Virginia for six years.
“Two years ago, I was helping a young man — he’s an amputee at the knee — and I had him down at the International Park in Atlanta, Georgia, and we just worked on his feet and what he could do as far as coming off the blocks.”
“And then the second year, Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Sue Bozgoz, one of my training partners, tried to get up to the training brigade to take a job and then we ended up coaching. So, one year I’m working with an athlete and the next year I’m coaching the whole track and field with her.”
Bozgoz is founder of an organization of world-class runners.
“We started gearing up for this year’s Warrior Games the day the games ended last year in May. Back in August we had a Warrior 5-k,” said Daniels).
“Last year we were still trying to figure out how to do it and to give the services a chance to enter competitions — Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. The Army Special Forces have their own team, and once all that happened it was still in the stages of trying to figure out how to run the games.”
Last year, she said, medical personnel were discussing the various ranges of motion — who qualifies for the standing, throws, discuses and shots and who qualifies for the sitting throws — discuses and shots. And who actually can do the bike, the wheelchair and who should be running — putting them in fair categories, such as single amputees and double amputees running together.
The games began, said Daniels, because the Army wanted something to boost the morale of the Soldiers. Many of them were coming back from war and didn’t feel comfortable fitting back into society, with people looking at them differently.
“We’ve come a long ways because we had too many Soldiers coming back and committing suicide and a lot of times the wives couldn’t fit in with their husbands. It’s not the same man, so it’s a training process to get the whole family to go past that point in their lives and to move on. So it’s something the Transition Brigade is doing to try to up the morale,” she said.
FOCUS ON ABILITIES, NOT DISABILITY
Staff Sgt. Jessie White, 39, a Cavalry Scout who retired on Jan. 26, is one of the athletes and now a coach. He got injured just outside of Taji, Iraq, in 2007. He does sitting volleyball, archery, shot put and discus. He’s pretty close to being a champion in all of these sports.
“I started in the initial Warrior Games in 2010 and have been doing it ever since,” White said.
He’s had his right ankle re-built four times, had his left knee done, had traumatic brain injury, or TBI, and has had two discs in his lower back and three in his neck done.
“When the games started, the theme was ‘don’t focus on your disabilities, focus on your abilities,'” he said.
“Yeah, maybe I can’t go compete with your average top-level athletes, but I can still compete in my class, and that’s what this does. A lot of these guys who are here this year have never done any of this, so it’s going to show them that they can still get out and compete and stay in shape. Even though you have a disability, it doesn’t keep you from being able to do anything,” he said.
White believes if he didn’t do this, he would probably not be as mobile as he is.
“I wouldn’t be able to walk daily, you know, get out of bed in the morning. Building the muscles and keeping the joints loose is a huge factor in rehab.
Mentally, he said, competition provides amazing results.
“You come back and all you hear is you can’t do this and you can’t do that. You take a Soldier who has been bred that you can do anything, you put your mind to it and now you’re telling him he can’t and it kills him.”
“Their spirit goes to crap,” he explained. “By bringing them out and doing this, I’ve got kids that before they started doing this, they never came out of their room. You never saw them. They weren’t smiling. Now they come out, they do sports, big smile on their face when they’re doing it.”
This is really breaking down the stereotype of a disabled veteran, he said.
The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program, or CSF-PREP, provides a systematic way to build mental and emotional strength using scientifically tested, evaluated, and validated education methods from the fields of sport and performance psychology.
Mark Campbell, who works with the Warrior Transition Command, is the master trainer for all WTC-related items for CSF-PREP, and he also acts as liaison between the two programs. His background is in sports medicine, exercise science and sport and exercise psychology.
He was hired by CSF-PREP in 2007 to take mental skills training and applying it to injury and illness, so he started working with Warrior Transition Command a few months later. Now performance-enhancement specialists work with each of the 29 Warrior Transition Units and nine community-based WTUs, quarterly, to provide educational classes, individual workshops and one-on-one sessions.
“The Warrior Games began when, then-Brigadier General Gary Cheek, now major general, was on a cycle event with some wounded Soldiers. Afterward they all got together and thought wouldn’t it be great if all wounded service members had events like this to compete in and 10 months later the first Warrior Games were held in May 2010,” Campbell said.
“Today, at Fort Belvoir there is a camp with the potential track and field teams and the swim teams. The Army has 50 athletes they can send and right now we’re looking at about 100 folks that are applying, so it’s a great way to let everybody get out and showcase their abilities,” he said.
“A lot of these folks are great athletes and great competitors, and they’re really far along in their transition, really making the most of their abilities, so it’s going to be a tough decision,” Campbell said.
The U.S. Olympic Committee, or USOC, announced in December 2011 that the Warrior Games will return to Colorado Springs, Colo., from April 30 to May 5, 2012. The competition, hosted by the USOC, is also supported by the Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, USO, Fisher House Foundation and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
Events are conducted at the Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy, both in Colorado Springs.
Created in 2010 as an introduction to Paralympic sports for injured service members and veterans, the Warrior Games has become a springboard for many service members and veterans to continue participating in sports programs in their communities after the event.
Since its inception, medical treatment facilities, Warrior Transition Units and Wounded Warrior Battalions East (Camp Lejeune) and West (Camp Pendleton) have seen a more than 20-percent increase in sports program participation by wounded, ill, and injured service members.
More than 200 wounded, ill, and injured servicemen and women and veterans are expected to compete in seven sports (archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track & field and wheelchair basketball) in 2012. All eligible athletes will be drawn proportionately from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Special Operations Command, based on their disability.
To learn more about the Warrior Games, click here.