By Jim Wenzel, WTC Stratcom
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.