By Erich Langer, WTC Stratcom
Ten Army wounded warrior athletes selected to the Army’s Warrior Games team are competing in an elite clinic hosted at the San Antonio Military Medical Center (SAMMC), formerly known as Brooke Army Medical Center, this weekend. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Soldiers and Veterans as well as Warrior Transition Unit Soldiers are receiving coaching and instruction from some of the world’s best sitting volleyball and U.S. Paralympic program coaches.
“We’re glad you are here and ready to practice, practice, and practice some more,” said Elliott Blake U.S. Army Volleyball Coach and U.S. Paralympic Coach. “Look around you. These are your teammates for the Warrior Games. Most of you were at our clinic in January in Oklahoma but you’ll notice there are only 10 of you from the large group of athletes who wanted to be here. Congratulations but you’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few days to further refine your skills.”
The Warrior Games is an athletic competition hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Program. More than 220 Army, Marine Corps, Navy-Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations Soldiers will compete against each other in numerous sports at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO May 16-21, 2011 as part of the second Warrior Games competition to be held. In addition to the Department of Defense, several other organizations are working together to make the Games possible. The United Services Organization (USO), Ride 2 Recovery and corporate partners are teaming to make the athletic events special for all participating athletes.
Coach Blake was correct. Following today’s first day of training it was evident that the Army athletes were leaving it all on the floor. A couple needed an extra break and lots of water. “You just can’t drink enough water, your body needs it and the heat in San Antonio might be more that you are acclimated to.”
Correct again. Sunny San Antonio’s temperature reached 91 Fahrenheit. and the heat conditions inside SAMMC’s Jimmy Brought Fitness Center easily approached 100 Fahrenheit.
With Army athletes coming from as far as Fort Drum, NY where snowmen and igloos are likely the prevalent features this time of year, the weather is an adjustment. SSG Christian Hughes from Northern Regional Medical Command in Fort Drum likes the weather and isn’t complaining about experiencing spring earlier than normal—conditions like those he is experiencing in Texas are still months away, up north
In the 2010 inaugural Warrior Games, the Army Sitting Volleyball Team reached the championship game but lost in a nail-biter to the Marines. Coaches and players vow not to let that happen again in May.
“It really makes me train harder knowing we lost to the Marines last year,” said SPC Robert Nuss, Southern Regional Medical Command, Fort Benning, GA. “I’m a very competitive person and train hard for everything I do, so it only makes me train harder so we can go out and beat those guys!” Nuss knows what it is like to compete at Warrior Games. In 2010, he competed in Sitting Volleyball and several track events and was a near medalist for the Warrior Games top prize, Ultimate Champion.
This year he will compete in several track events and sitting volleyball. His training routine is high paced and includes running six days a week, biking four or five days a week as well as several days of weight training. “I stay motivated and keep my edge by eating the right foods and following my training regime. If I don’t feel like training one day, I tell myself that my competitors are out there training and if I don’t train, too, I’ll lose my edge. I can’t let that happen.”
Nuss’ experience and training excellence should serve him and his Army Warrior Games teammates well in Colorado.
After Day One, of repetitive drills, technical lessons, scrimmages, and coaches’ chalk talk sessions with the team by Blake and fellow coach Rik Mullane, everyone was getting into the groove. Their faces told their story best. They were tired with sore butts, backs, and arms—even though some were too proud to admit it.
“Hey, gather around,” said Blake as he quickly tracked down some ‘runaway’ balls that were afoot. “You’ve got to get serous here, I want to see the intensity that I know each and every one of you have. The thing is, I have you for a total of 19 hours of training at our clinic. Athletes on the U.S. Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team intensely train for hundreds and hundreds of hours each year. I wish we had more time but we don’t. We’ve got to get the fundamentals right and use all of our time wisely.”
The camp will continue over the weekend with more training, drills and additional scrimmages and games with elite teams. Blake did his homework and set up games and joint training sessions with additional athletes that are training and competing for slots on the U.S. Paralympic team. “In sitting volleyball and other sports you rise to the level of the competition and the Army Team practicing and competing against other sitting volleyball players will be very beneficial.”
Army Sitting Volleyball Team athletes preparing for Warrior Games in San Antonio include:
SPC Peter Danielson, SRMC/Benning
SSG Christian Hughes, NRMC/Drum
SPC Robert Nuss, SRMC/Benning
SGT Ruben Pedro, SRMC/Gordon
SPC Zachariah Smith, SRMC/Stewart
Retired SGT Margaux Vair, Veteran
SGT Illja Zafiroski, SRMC/Benning
SPC Jose Alfaro, SRMC/SAMMC
SGT Giovonttie McLemore, SRMC/SAMMC
SPC Damion Peyton, SRMC/Gordon
In addition to sitting volleyball, Army wounded warrior athletes will compete in track and field, swimming, shooting, archery, cycling, wheelchair basketball and the ultimate warrior competition.