By LTC Jeanette Griffin, WTC Stratcom
SGT Ben Thomas after competing in the 100- and 200-meter wheelchair competition during the 2011 Warrior Games.
The sweat from the Soldier’s brow dripped down his forehead as he prepared for his turn at the start line. He knew he was ready. He would use the butterflies and nervousness to drive himself to the finish line.
SGT Benjamin Thomas, the only Army track and field 100-meter and 200-meter wheelchair competitor, was medically discharged from the Army in December 2006, after having his right knee reconstructed due to a basketball injury. Then in 2008, Thomas was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Although he slowly lost his mobility and began using a wheelchair, he did not let that stop his determination to compete in the 2011 Warrior Games.
“I decided to compete because I told myself that I can, plus I wanted to show others that I can still do the things I used to do.” Thomas said.
A week before the competition, 24 Soldiers trained to compete in the track and field events at the 2011 Warrior Games. Retired Army LTC Sue Bozgoz, the Army team’s track and field coach, was crucial to training this team for success.
“For many of my track and field athletes, these Games have become a part of their life, as well as mine,” Bozgoz said. “I can tell from talking with them that everything from their head to their soul has been filled with the Warrior Games spirit.”
Bozgoz, who has 54 marathons under her belt, knows plenty about coaching. Although she no longer runs marathons due to injuries sustained from a car accident, she trains military and civilian personnel and coaches international runners throughout the year.
“I have been here seven days watching our warriors train with passion and guts,” Bozgoz said before the track and field competition, held on the first day of the Warrior Games. “Whether they were running on the track or throwing the shot put in the field, they were training as a team with focus and drive.”
“In my mind, the 2011 Warrior Games is filled with champions with big hearts and solid drive,” she added. “Whether our warriors come in first, second, third or last, that’s part of the game, and we are all winners.”
Before arriving at Warrior Games, Thomas trained three days per week for one and a half hours per day. Just before the competition, he spent some time in Colorado Springs perfecting his form and technique, as well as adjusting to the altitude.
“My drive consists of my Family and showing others and myself that it can be done,” Thomas stated.
Thomas sees the Warrior Games as a stepping stone towards doing his best and believes in a positive attitude no matter what. His goal is to remain healthy. Currently, his multiple sclerosis is in remission.
“Don’t say ‘can’t’ because you put a handicap on yourself,” Thomas said. “Never say ‘never’ because that shows you are quitting.”
Helping Thomas and other competitors is Millie Daniels, a 10-year high school track and field coach from Bedford, VA. She was selected as one of the assistant coaches for the Warrior Games and helped the field participants train for their event. “Helping to train these athletes has been an opportunity of a lifetime,” Daniels said. “I am glad I was invited to assist with the track and field events.”
After the Warrior Games, many of the track and field athletes and coaches will continue to add to their track and field repertoire.
“I plan to continue coaching and training a group of world class elite international runners,” Bozgoz said. “I have also accepted the challenge to train the first-ever Warrior Transition Command team as they prepare for this year’s 2011 Army Ten-Miler.”
Now that the Warrior Games are over and the winners announced, the journey home proved to be the final highlight because the world now recognizes these warriors as not just wounded, but as remarkable athletes.
The Army brought home 15 medals in track and field: 2 gold, 4 silver, and 9 bronze.