Army Soldiers, Warrior Games Cyclists, and True Champions

By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom

(Left to right) Sailor Brandon Norris, SSG Kenny Griffith, SSG Robert Laux, and SFC Landon Ranker cross the finish line together at the 2011 Warrior Games cycling event at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, CO.

The Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium teemed with race officials, volunteers, athletes, VIPs, spectators, and media Friday morning to watch the 2011 Warrior Games cycling finals. Wounded, ill, and injured men and women from all branches of service and the Special Operations Command were ready to demonstrate their training, technique, and heart as they tackled the Warrior Games cycling course. In terms of expectations, the Army team was uniformly humble to represent their branch, to be given the opportunity to race, and to give everything they had to win.

The cycling events began around 8:30 a.m. with the 20K men’s recumbent bike race as the cyclists made two laps around the 10K course. For one Army cyclist, it was a gift to even be riding in the race. SPC Justin Minyard came to Colorado Springs with some unexpected equipment trouble. As his cycle went through airport screening, his careful packing job was undone and his cycle made a very rough trip from Fort Bragg to Colorado Springs, CO. His cycle’s frame was damaged so badly that he was not going to get a chance to compete—until a local cyclist decided to donate his own cycle frame and allow Minyard his chance at Warrior Games gold.

Making the most of this generous offer, Minyard outdistanced all opposition as he smoked through the course to reach the finish line. “It felt incredible,” he said. “The bike was completely dialed-in, can’t ask for a more beautiful day, and I felt like going fast, so it was good.” The cheers of the Army fans were deafening as Minyard crossed the finish line without any other recumbent competitors in sight.

Fort Knox Warrior Transition Brigade Commander and wounded warrior LTC David Haines made a surprise leap to the podium, earning a silver medal in the 30K men’s cycle race as he hung very close to the leaders throughout the course and deftly outraced his fellow competitors coming into the home stretch.

Army also dominated the 10K women’s cycle race as PFC Christina Mitchell took silver and CPT Lisa Merwin dashed to the finish and won gold. For Merwin, as a breast cancer survivor, nothing is taken for granted. Her eye was firmly fixed on the top prize, and she also broughta desire to achieve a personal goal.

When asked about the race, she stated she wanted to finish the race in 18 to 20 minutes, but she was held back by an unexpected headwind in the final downhill leg. Despite missing her personal mark, she took gold and concluded by saying, “It is awesome to represent the Army at the Warrior Games, I am very proud to be an Army officer, and I feel honored to be here with all these other Soldiers and servicemembers who are wounded.”

All of the athletes came to win, but winning isn’t everything. What most of the spectators, VIPs, and media saw on the course was the heart of the men and women who sacrifice themselves in the defense of our nation. LTC Haines, CPT Merwin, SPC Minyard, and PFC Mitchell distinguished themselves by earning medals, but all of the competitors brought the heart of true champions.

The lasting image of the cycling event may not be a photo of an athlete earning a medal. Perhaps it is captured in the three Soldiers and a Sailor who, after being knocked out of medal contention in the 30K men’s cycling race, decided to support each other by riding and crossing the finish line together. That is the true nature of the brotherhood and sisterhood of arms. That is the heart of a true champion.

 

Finals are Only the Beginning

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom

BG Darryl Williams stands with SPC Andy Kingsley, his family, and several members of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, NC.

The tears rolled freely from her eyes onto the ground with a splash similar to the splashes of her nephew leaving the diving board to slice into the cool, crystal clear water at the Aquatics Center pool. Sandi Thomas was proud to say SPC Andy Kingsley was her nephew.

The Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Solider, a field artilleryman with the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, NC, was severely injured when he and his 13-Soldier artillery unit were attacked by a bombardment of mortars at a location about 50 miles from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

When the mortars started, he rushed to a nearby shelter. Looking back, seeing the other members of his squad trailing, he stepped back out of the bunker to direct them inside. As the last Soldier entered the bunker, a mortar round exploded, launching Kingsley through the air.

Kingsley, a devoted high school wrestling and football athlete, did not let losing his right leg above the knee and suffering several other injuries, derail his opportunity to play and compete in sports. The Warrior Games gives him a chance to show not only himself, but everyone else, that if you try hard enough–you have no limits.

SPC Andy Kingsley after he finished one of his swimming races during the 2011 Warrior Games.

“When I was injured, I thought normal life was out of the question for me, and now look at me,” he said.

The three days a week swimming and strength training Kingsley did at the Warrior Transition Unit before the games helped him during his 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke, and 100-meter freestyle swimming events at the 2011 Warrior Games.

During the swimming preliminaries, he qualified in all three events and is heading to the finals proving that his hard work, training, and dedication paid off.

Along with the support from his Family, Kingsley also has the support from his previous unit. More than 20 Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division showed up to cheer him on during his competition.

Kingsley plans to return to Massachusetts and pursue a degree in zoology where he would like to work  training service dogs and other service animals for wounded warriors.

He also plans to start a youth organization to provide children positive time-tested ways to have fun while avoiding unnecessary conflict. This organization will incorporate the seven Army’s core values which he feels are essential in guiding children to be better citizens and keeping them mentally focused and physically healthy.

For now, he focused on the goal at hand. As the whistle blew, Kingsley’s aunt and grandmother Annie’s eyes froze on Kingsley. The hand-drawn sign stating ”Go for the gold Kingfish” was raised high in the air, moving from side to side. They knew Kingsley was in his element as he swam to the finish line.

 

Army Focuses on Shooting Strong in the Warrior Games Finals

By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom

SFC Benjamin Trescott prepares to shoot in the air rifle finals at the Warrior Games.

At the Olympic Training Center Shooting Range in Colorado Springs, CO, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen gathered for the final matches to determine who will win Warrior Games gold.

Amidst the buzz and activity outside the range, the stillness of the firing line amplified the tension in the air. The small, slow movements of the shooters as they brought their weapons up to the target masked a fierce mental game that narrowed the competitive field by tenths of a point to determine the winner.

After following the Army shooting team over the past two weeks, I am amazed at the work they’ve put into training their minds to reset after each and every shot so they don’t lose mental focus or allow anxiety to raise their heart rate, rush shots, or squeeze the trigger before they have a true sight picture. Their wounds and injuries, both physical and invisible, such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), only made their shooting accomplishments more spectacular. And I am sure the techniques they use to calm and center themselves between shots are very therapeutic in almost anything they do.

Seven Army shooters made it through Tuesday’s preliminary round to reach the finals: CPT Juan Guerrero, SFC Benjamin Prescott, SSG Robert Laux, SPC David Oliver, and PFC Josh Bullis shot the air rifle prone;PFC Josh Bullis and PFC Latoya McClain shot the air rifle standing; and SSG Micheal Strong, SGT Paul Haines, and SPC David Oliver shot the air pistol.

The competition was fierce and there seemed to be an inordinate amount of Marines and their supporters in the stands. Fighting the rising tension, focusing downrange, and making each shot count was exhausting work for the entire Army team. Many of them closed their eyes between each shot as they willed themselves to relax and look forward to the next shot and not dwell on the ones already sent downrange.

One of the first team members off the line, SFC Benjamin Trescott, didn’t medal this year. He was, however, very proud to represent the Army. “It is very humbling,” he said. “It’s good to still feel that you have a purpose, that you can push yourself to different levels of competition.”

SPC David Oliver earned a bronze medal in air rifle prone at the Warrior Games shooting finals.

SPC David Oliver was the first to medal as he took bronze in the air rifle prone. Always cool and collected, he described the intensity in the room saying, “It’s pretty high octane. I can’t remember being this pumped.”

PFC Josh Bullis also took bronze in the rifle prone. He had a nail-biting come-from-behind victory by first tying and then surpassing a Marine in the final few shots. Each announcement of his score drew enormous cheers from the Army crowd when he started to draw ahead of his competitor. Bullis is another steely-eyed competitor and you wouldn’t think he was rattled by the atmosphere of the packed shooting gallery until he said, “I’ve been shot at before and I haven’t been that nervous.”

A final highlight of the competition didn’t result in a medal but it did draw a lot of attention from the Army’s Warrior Games shooting coach, MSG Howard Day. PFC Latoya McClain came into the finals at the rear of the pack as her score was a cumulative total of two days of competition. That didn’t stop her from shooting her heart out as she turned in a nice tight group of shots that would have made her a contender had she not been hampered by the previous day’s score.

Day spoke candidly about her excellent performance by saying “She shot a group as tight as the gold medal winner. She has come so far in the couple of weeks we’ve worked together, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Army Marksmanship Unit comes knocking on her door at some point in the future… She brought her A-game today.”

The Army may have only snapped up two bronze medals in the competition, but the team is taking home a far greater prize. They have gained an experience of a lifetime that will allow them to move forward knowing they didn’t hold anything back—they left it all there on the firing line at the Olympic Training Center.

As someone who was exhausted simply watching the competition unfold, I gained a deep respect for these wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans. As they move forward to other, more difficult challenges, they can certainly do so with the confidence gained from their Warrior Games experience.

 

Warrior Games Showcases Qualities of All Soldiers

By BG Darryl Williams, WTC Commander

Army Warrior Games wheelchair basketball team during the national anthem at Thursday’s game.

We’re in the middle of Warrior Games, and I think it’s important to take a minute to recognize the qualities of the Soldiers competing here this week—90 Soldiers and Army Veterans who represent the Army’s wounded, ill, and injured population.

For one thing, they’re representing the true strength of the Army. I was particularly proud to watch them beat the Marines at wheelchair basketball on Monday, 39-24. And the Marines were the defending gold medalists.

The Warrior Games is an aspirational model that showcases the resilient spirit of every Soldier in today’s force. And it represents a bigger piece of the whole approach to Army warrior care. You see, it’s important that each Soldier heals in all dimensions of life: physical, social, spiritual, emotional, Family, and career. Soldiers in WTUs develop a Comprehensive Transition Plan (CTP) that encompasses each of those dimensions. And that CTP is a contract between the Soldier and him or herself. Physical is the focus this week, but the athletes’ accomplishments also help them understand their abilities and unlimited potential in every aspect of life.

The Warrior Games athletes here this week are giving their maximum effort to compete. They won’t all be on the medal stand, but they’re all champions. You see, they all set goals for their training—to run faster, to hit the target, to get up when their wheelchair falls over. What we’re seeing here is a manifestation of what all wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans do every day: they come to terms with their injuries and focus on the future. And that’s true of all Soldiers, whatever the challenge.

CPT Lisa Merwin, who’s competing this week in cycling and swimming, put it well. “None of us want to be defined by our injury or our illness. We’re all fighters,” she said. “Whether we’re Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, we speak to being survivors and being fighters and persevering. And that’s just the military way.”

Once a Soldier, always a Soldier. And these Soldiers and Veterans didn’t develop this resilient spirit when they became wounded, ill, or injured—it was in them all along. Soldiers are prepared to face whatever challenges life throws at them, whether it be a target at the Warrior Games archery competition, the enemy down range, or learning to walk again. Soldiers step up and complete the mission. And that’s what we’re seeing this week—the Army values in action.

You can watch the medal rounds for wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball live online:

  • Friday, May 20: Wheelchair basketball bronze & gold medal games, 6:30 p.m. MT
  • Saturday, May 21: Sitting volleyball bronze & gold medal games, 1:00 p.m. MT

 

It was Like Watching the Super Bowl

By Patricia Sands, WTC Stratcom

The Army Warrior Games wheelchair basketball team celebrates after their win over the Marines on Tuesday.

I don’t know if anyone has told you, but there was a bit of rivalry between the Army and the Marines over the wheelchair basketball finals at last year’s Warrior Games. This is an understatement for sure. In fact, after shadowing the team this week, I realized that last night’s game was almost as important as winning the finals.

COL Greg Gadson, the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Director, knew the importance of this game and talked to the team the morning before Tuesday’s game. He spoke to them as he did to the New York Giants before their 2008 Super Bowl win. He is an inspiration in word and deed. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. After talking to the team, he strapped himself into a wheelchair, moved among the ranks, and played with the team during their practice. As a double amputee himself, he told me, “They are tough and play a rough game. I took a few spills.”

Later that day, Gadson again showed his support as he took an anchor position at the end of the court. He held his position the entire game. I was with him and countless people told him he had a spot in the VIP room. However, he said he was staying courtside—right there at the battlefield.

Gadson is an ultimate competitor and if you have ever seen him, he embodies the entire U.S. Army persona in a single Soldier. I can only imagine the intimidation factor the Marines felt as they whizzed by his powerful presence at the end of their side of the court. Yet, he didn’t say a word to anyone. He knew these players had their marching orders from their coaches. That said, the coaches and the team had a tough first half. It went back and forth a bit more than I liked. The tension was very high.

I can tell you of an endearing moment that I witnessed during the game. There was a missed basket. SGT Delvin Maston, one of the Army wheelchair basketball players, gritted his teeth as he rolled by Gadson. In a split second, Gadson locked eyes with the young SGT, nodded, and Maston returned the nod.  It was clear what Gadson was communicating—“Shake it off. Reset. Get going. It’s ok. Try again. I am with you.” The silence between them was very full.

Army Warrior Games wheelchair basketball player SGT Delvin Maston looks to make a pass during the team’s game against the Marines.

The coaches and the players learned their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses to maximize their positions. It was a brilliant game of high energy and strategy. Coach Garner said it was a speed game and that the Army team had to adjust many times. Their adjustments worked and the tables turned. The Army team won the game and the crowds went crazy. They rushed the players and ran onto the court to join in the celebration of their victory. With the mission complete, Gadson left the battlefield.

Gadson shows support like he did that night and more 24/7 as he directs AW2. He oversees more than 170 AW2 Advocates in the field who assist severely wounded, ill, and injured Army Soldiers, Veterans, and their Families as they recover and succeed in all phases of their lives. These AW2 Advocates provide personalized assistance for the most severely wounded, ill, and injured.

To learn more about the AW2 program please visit the AW2 website. If you are part of an organization that supports severely wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans, learn more about how you can continue supporting through the AW2 Community Support Network. Get involved.

 

Goodbye Preliminaries, Hello Finals

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom

The 2011 Warrior Games Army swimming team before their swimming meet preliminaries on Wednesday.

CPL Harrison Ruzicka was told he signed up for the 2011 Warrior Games two months too late, but fate stepped in a month later when another Soldier had to drop out of the competition. Ruzicka, currently assigned to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) Warrior Transition Unit, was given the opportunity to go for gold in the 50-meter men’s freestyle swimming event.

For Ruzicka, the swimming competition adds extra pressure, not because of his injuries, but because every time he dives into the water the memory of his accident flashes into his mind.

Ruzicka, who qualified for the swimming finals, was injured August 7, 2009, when an improvised explosive device (IED) hit his vehicle while he was deployed to Afghanistan. Due to the IED, he was trapped under his vehicle in a river. He eventually lost his right leg and had pins haloed around his left leg to keep the bones intact.

“Training and competing is about 200 percent more mental than physical for me,” said Ruzicka. “I used to dive growing up, but since the accident, it’s been harder.”

“I have to focus on controlling my heart rate before I dive into the water, and I still can’t wear dark goggles when I dive,” he added. “This time last year I was still healing, so I’m just happy to be here.”

CSM Jesus Febo-Colon, the WRAMC Warrior Transition Brigade Command Sergeant Major, has been very supportive of the Army swim team by attending all of the training sessions and the preliminaries where he has Ruzicka and six other Soldiers assigned to the WRAMC Warrior Transition Unit competing in the swimming events.

“It’s a priceless personal experience to see our boys and girls working so hard to prove that there is no misfortune that doesn’t bring some good with it,” Febo-Colon said. “In spite of all their losses, their souls are full of hope; their hearts are overflowing with positive emotions; and there is only one thought going through their minds—I can.”

During the swimming preliminaries, the Army’s team took to the water with an agenda of not letting any other branch excel in this event.

That goal was achieved. After the long training hours and the extra practices to make sure they were ready, the Army’s team had 15 Soldiers qualify for the finals.

SGT Angel Herrera
MSG Rhoden Galloway
SSG Kenny Griffith
SPC Michael Grover
SPC Andy Kingsley
SSG Robert Laux
SSG Stefanie Mason
SPC Evan Marcy
CPT Elizabeth Merwin
SPC Jasmine Perry
SFC Landon Ranker
CPL Harrison Ruzicka
SPC Galen Ryan
SGT Gavin Sibayan
SGT Matthew Sullivan

“I definitely think we are the top dog of today’s events,” Febo-Colon said after the preliminaries were over and the results were announced.

Congratulations to the finalists! Everyone did a great job and I look forward to seeing the team give it their all at the finals.

Warrior Games Athletes Inspire

By BG Darryl Williams, WTC Commander

I’ve had a fantastic time at the Warrior Games. These Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and members of Special Ops inspire everyone at the Olympic Training Center. And they’re all full of pride too.

My favorite event so far was the wheelchair basketball prelim I watched tonight—probably because basketball’s my favorite sport. It’s incredible to watch these athletic men and women, and don’t think it’s a light game just because they’re in wheelchairs. The clock keeps going if they fall out of the chair, and the ref even called a technical foul because one team had too many players on the court. The Army won Wednesday, 49–12, and they’re ready to take on the Marines again in the next round.

And the whole Army team is like this. They’re focused on their abilities and demonstrating how much they can achieve. If they fall off the bike, they get right back up. If they stumble coming off the blocks, they just run faster and harder to make up for it. They don’t shy away from taking on a new sport—we’ve got Soldiers competing in swimming who just learned to swim. All of the Soldier athletes here this week recognize that their physical accomplishments are one part of their total recovery, and that they must bring the same level of discipline to the emotional, spiritual, Family, career, and social aspects of their lives.

Warrior Games demonstrates the resilience of every wounded, ill, and injured servicemember, and each athlete here is a champion, regardless of whether they win medals. I know they’ve inspired me, and they’ll continue to excel throughout the rest of the week.

SGT Regan Won’t Be Stopped By a Coma, Traumatic Brain Injury, or Gunshot Wound

By Vondell Brown, AW2 Advocate Support Branch

Retired SGT David Regan running.

Retired SGT David Regan competed in the 2011 Warrior Games to illustrate that his training means more than competition, it defines his life.

The stride that you see is just a glimpse of AW2 Veteran retired SGT David Regan as he prepared to compete for the gold in the 200-meter and 800-meter run yesterday at the 2011 Warrior Games.

“I came to the Warrior Games last year at the direction of the leadership of my unit and ended up with the bronze medal in the 400-meter run,” said Regan of Portland, OR, who was injured in January 2009 during a route clearing mission outside Sadr City, Iraq.

Regan who was shot twice in his leg, sustained a severe traumatic brain injury, and spent over four months in a coma, still has the intestinal fortitude, personal courage, and espirit-de-corp to compete in this year’s Warrior Games. Regan remembers his first dealings with the public since his accident. He was asked by Impact A Hero, a nonprofit organization, to throw the first pitch at the Cincinnati Red Socks spring training game. Regan explained, “This was the turnaround point in my therapy to recovery.”

I had the privilege of watching Regan train this week at the McKibben Fitness Center, Fort Carson, CO. Regan has a rigorous training program consisting of eating a small healthy breakfast, consisting of lots of fruit and juices, followed by two and a half hours of cardio training and ending with two hours of weight training in the evening.

Regan wants to pursue a degree in physical therapy so that he can give back to wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and Veterans by helping them recover from their injuries. He received a scholarship from AW2 Community Support Member Sentinels of Freedom, and will be attending Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.

Although Regan is greatly inspired by his fellow warriors, he said nothing inspires him more than his two-year-old daughter, Taylor. “I had to compete to show my daughter and my fellow warriors that quitting is not an option.”

Yesterday, I witnessed Regan give his best. With each stride, he took an additional step forward in his journey to challenge himself athletically and in his life. Although, Regan did not place, he gained something greater than a medal. He gained proof that he can apply himself. He gained proof that he can demonstrate to his daughter Taylor, that crossing the finish line in life is all that matters.

AW2 Soldier’s Life After Injury

By SSG Emily Anderson, WTC Stratcom

SSG Marcia Morris-Roberts, an Army Warrior Games swimmer mentally prepares to compete in the 50-meter freestyle swimming event.

As I sit at the pool, listening to the chatter and the cheers of the athletes who are competing in the 2011 Warrior Games swimming events, I start to think if I were in their situation, would I have the courage to do what they are doing? Would I be able to embrace what has happened to me and show that it is not stopping me from accomplishing new goals? Would I be able to inspire and motivate another person by just talking about my injuries and explaining how this has not crushed my spirit, but only made me stronger?

The swimming competitors are coming together to train and hone in and sharpen their skills. While they practice diving into the pool, racing against each other, and working on their swimming techniques, the phrase “There is no such thing as handicapped, we are handi-capable,” is showcased throughout the training sessions. One AW2 Soldier in particular, SSG Marcia Morris-Roberts, uses this as her own personal motto.

Morris-Roberts, who will be competing in the 50-meter freestyle swim event, had a difficult year. In February 2010, when leaving for Smyrna, TN to receive additional training as a supply specialist, the military specialty she had been working in for the past two of her sixteen year career, she had no way of knowing what was in store for her.

While attending her training course, Morris-Roberts began to develop mysterious symptoms. “I was so cold and my fingers and toes were turning purple and causing a terrible pain,” Morris-Roberts said. “At first I thought it was just a symptom of me having lupus. I thought it would get better if I better managed taking my medicine, but it only got worse.”

After the month-long training course was over, Morris-Roberts made the trip back to her home in Georgia. When she went into work the next day, she was still in pain.

“It felt like a pit bull had bit my foot. I finally decided to go to the doctor, to figure out what was going on,” she said. “I knew if I went during my training course the doctors would admit me to the hospital because of my lupus. I would have failed the course because you can’t miss more than eight hours. ”

After several visits with physicians, she learned that it wasn’t her lupus, it was frost-bite and she was suffering the onset of gangrene. Eventually, she had to have her left leg, one toe from her right foot, and her third finger on her right hand amputated.

“The amputation was ultimately my decision,” she said. “I didn’t want them to keep cutting section by section, so I just told them to take the leg.”

Morris-Roberts has not let what happened in the past year keep her from having a positive outlook and looking for the silver lining.

“I appreciate the opportunity to participate and share with others,” Morris-Roberts said. “Even though we are physically challenged, we are still human and can do anything.”

“My goal is to become a motivational speaker. I’ve always wanted to wear a smile on my face,” she added. “Through hard work and perseverance, I want to motivate people.”

“It’s just amazing the things you see people work their way through,” she said. “I really want to assist Soldiers with injuries more serious than mine and help them find their way with the support of their Families.”

Growing up, she was a cheerleader, played softball and basketball. She was also an avid cyclist, and rollerbladed regularly. She also said participating and competing in sports helps her to feel normal. She continues to work out several times a week and maintains a very active lifestyle.

“Adaptive sports are a great tool for the physically challenged and what better way to show our therapists the hard work has paid off,” Morris-Roberts said. “The team building and camaraderie keeps everyone motivated.”

“I’m participating in Warrior Games to challenge and motivate myself and show other amputees that they can do the same and more,” Morris-Roberts explained. “I am inspired to compete in the Warrior Games as a personal challenge.”

Morris-Roberts’ ultimate goals are to continue serving in the Army as a model Soldier and have a positive impact by inspiring others.

“I love the military and take my career seriously. I plan to get better, stay focused, participate in team building events, and be a beacon to light the paths of other Soldiers,” she said. “I’ll be that light that inspires others to be better than they were.”

Editor’s Note: SSG Marcia Morris-Roberts also competed in the shot put sitting field event on Tuesday and earned a silver medal.

 

“With All Due Respect, Sir… You are Goin’ Down”

By Patricia Sands, WTC Stratcom

The Army wheelchair basketball team scrimmages with members of the WTC cadre.

It was fun to hear the smack go down before the scrimmage between the WTC cadre and the Army wheelchair basketball team. However, after they started playing, the smack was gone on the cadre side. They were too busy keeping the ball and getting the chairs to turn more quickly. To their credit, the cadre gave it their all. They did a great job and played hard. Yet, the difference in the skill level between the two groups was very apparent. The Warrior Games Army team dominated the court and easily made complex plays look very easy. The cadre soon learned that maneuvering the wheelchairs and trying to win at the same time was not easy.

“They are tough. They didn’t cut any slack,” said MSG Rebeca Garo of AW2 Advocate Branch about the Army wheelchair basketball team. “Your hands are your legs, and it is harder than standing basketball. The coordination of moving the wheels and the fast change of direction is hard to coordinate. Then add catching, dribbling, and shooting the ball into the mix, and you realize you are out matched. I am at a complete disadvantage in this wheelchair. They go circles around me.”

Mr. Vondell Brown, a WTC staff member, also agreed. He said that you don’t even see the wheelchairs once the action starts. “You see top athletes coming at you fast. They are very skilled,” he explained. I asked him how he did against them, and if he had any great plays. He walked away smiling and saying, “Excuse me. I am going to get some water now.”

From the Army wheelchair basketball team side, I asked SGT Kinga “KJ” Kiss-Johnson her thoughts about playing the cadre. She said that they did well and it was fun. “MSG James Shiver effectively blocked me a few times,” added Kiss-Johnson. That is quite a feat since she is an awesome player. She said the coordination takes time to learn.

I asked Kiss-Johnson how she began playing basketball. She said it was recommended to her by her occupational therapist. She explained that it was a fun game, but beyond the fun, it helped her get better. Basketball helped her relearn not only physical skills, but it also helped her with her brain injury. “There is a lot of different and complex eye, hand, and body coordination that happens with this game. My brain knows how to play basketball, but getting my body to go where my brain wants it to go, took a lot of time to learn again. Plus, as competitive as Soldiers are, we work hard to gain the skills to win.” There is no denying that she has excelled in this endeavor. It sounds like basketball is just what the doctor ordered… and laughter is the best medicine. It is a great way to relearn skills outside of a therapy session and bond with other Soldiers and Veterans.

Returning from getting his water, Mr. Brown said with certainty, “I should have eaten my Wheaties®. I don’t see any one beating this team.”

 

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