CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Athletes line the football field aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., to begin their track practice warm-up.
“Ready, go!” shouts Wayne Howard, as he critiques the runners during the drills. He shouts advice to improve their form and help them improve as runners.
However, these athletes are different than the regular runners he coaches at a high school in Pennsylvania.
During March 4-12, more than 300 athletes from Wounded Warrior Battalion East, Wounded Warrior Battalion West, international allies and veterans will compete in the fourth annual Marine Corps Trials.
The Trials are hosted by the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, which enables wounded, ill, or injured Marines to focus on their abilities and to find avenues to thrive.
“We’re trying to give the guys all the skills that they need to improve their running efficiency and form as well as increase their endurance,” said Howard, an assistant track and field coach at the Trials.
Throughout the week of practice, he works alongside Marines with a variety of injuries or illnesses not only to make them faster, but help them cope and build confidence.
“I’m sure they have a lot of stuff going on, relative to their injuries and what is taken away from them,” Howard said. “They are using this to mend themselves and realize they still have that ability, that physical ability to do a lot of things they used to do.”
The Trials gives athletes an opportunity to compete in sports they participated in before the military or to try something new.
Beth Hope, a veteran from San Diego said the trials have made a huge difference in her life. She started at the trials three years ago and now races for the United States Paracycling Team.
“I like that all of us are healing and recovering and we help each other.” Hope said. “It’s a place that disabilities are celebrated, life is celebrated.”
The week of practices gives the athletes time to get ready to compete March 11.
“[Practices enable] them to improve, to increase their confidence, to get back if they’ve lost that feeling, that ‘I can,'” Howard said. “I see that virtually in every practice at least once. You see that person get to that next step of ’I can, I can, I can.’”
Howard said he looks forward to seeing them get healthy and stay healthy through the training sessions up to race day.
“They’re starting to bite at the bit now. They’re ready to race,” said Howard. “Seeing them go and run hard and realize that everything they’ve done to get up to [race day], it pays off.”
Howard expressed his thankfulness for the athletes he is coaching.
“I respect everything they’ve sacrificed and the people [who aren’t here] have sacrificed for people like me who never joined the military.” Howard said. “They give up a lot of time and energy so we can have our freedoms that we have. I’m just thankful for that."