COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Extremely tough mental and physical training and experience give the special operations team’s Wounded Warriors a competitive edge, said their cycling coach.
The athletes’ background in special ops prepared them well for the 2013 Warrior Games, said Coach Jeth Fogg, prior to the upright- and handcycling races at the Air Force Academy here May 12.
However, Fogg quickly added that the advantage is no guarantee they’re going to win. “We’re always the underdog because we’re smaller than the other services and don’t field as many folks.”
The special ops team has athletes from the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, some active, some medically retired, some old, some young.
It makes sense to have a separate special ops team, Fogg said, because it’s a unique part of the military where members of each service operate as a team, often in arduous conditions. They know each other very well and develop close-knit bonds.
Fogg himself is not a Wounded Warrior, nor was he ever in special ops, but he said during the course of his Air Force career he worked alongside them numerous times and understands their mindset.
Also, he is familiar with special ops Wounded Warriors because this is the third year at Warrior Games coaching them. The Warrior Games started in 2010, but special ops didn’t field a team until 2011, the year after Fogg retired from the Air Force.
The Warrior Games are for wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans and teams represent each of the services and one from the United Kingdom, in addition to special ops.
LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE
There are basically two levels of competition here, he said: “Complete and compete.”
The first goal for the athletes, he said, is just completing the course - going the distance. That’s the initial standard.
After that, they need to show a real desire to go further “and actually make it to the podium,” he said.
Here, just completing the course is a “huge deal” and the competitive aspect is at the high end, he added.
He provided an example of an athlete last year who could barely move about but made substantial progress and made the team. And another lost 48 pounds in a year to compete.
And then there’s the ultimate goal for some, he said: leaving the team.
“Some guys eventually get in such good shape that they pass the Veterans Affairs disability standard and can no longer compete,” he explained. Once that happens, they can join the paralympic team and try out for the 2016 Olympics.
The team has lost a number of athletes because they’ve gotten that good, he said.
For some, however, they enjoy the Warrior Games so much, they return year after year, he added. “For them, they’ve made that higher level already.”
Athletes come to the program at various levels and with various types of illnesses, injuries or wounds, he said. Some are missing an arm, some a leg. That is one of the factors that will determine if they use an upright bike, which is a normal looking bike, or a handcycle.
Both types of bikes are sometimes tricked out to suit the needs of the athletes, he added.
Next a power test is given, he said. Special training bikes are equipped with power meters that measure watts of energy the athletes can generate. That level of energy is one of the factors that go into customizing an athlete’s individual training program, which begins about a year out from competition.
Then, the tactics of racing are instilled into each athlete, he said.
Before a race, the coach said he takes each of them individually through the course and talks them through each segment.
“For some guys, this is their first time ever doing a bike race,” he said.
Then more tactics follow.
“Some hard chargers spend themselves because they go until they pop, which might be halfway through the race,” he said. “They suffer the remainder of the race.
“The grey-haired guys seem to be able to pick up on the tactics better than the younger ones,” he added. “They take what you say and use their smarts. They don’t let physicality rule the situation.”
He said the younger guys tend to have a lot of physical energy but they overuse it at the wrong time and, “When they do, someone takes advantage of them. It’s hard for them to understand you don’t always need to be the guy in the front. You gotta go ahead and use your smarts first and then use your physicality at the right time.”
Fogg said he’s been blessed to be this team’s coach. He admits that he doesn’t really have to do much emotional or psychological counseling with his athletes.
“They all know how to suffer,” he said. “They know the pain they can put their bodies through.”
He said they all want to get to the podium and his advice to them is: “You’re going to have to do a lot of suffering. And they do.”