FORT CARSON, Colo. – Active duty and retired wounded warriors – soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines – gather in the Colorado Springs area every year to compete in the Warrior Games.
This year, the Army and Marine Corps teams practiced at Fort Carson facilities, training for a variety of events including wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and track and field the week before the games.
The Army wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball players spent their first team practices at the brand new Ironhorse Physical Fitness Center, part of the New Fort Carson Resiliency Campus, which will officially open May 3.
“We have to take people from all over the country that may have never played together, and get them ready in a very short amount of time,” said Doug Garner, coach of the Army wheelchair basketball team. “It is great that they would let us have an excellent facility like this, and it is great that Fort Carson would allow us to use this brand new gym.”
Garner, who led the Army wheelchair basketball team to the gold medal in the 2011 Warrior Games, said wheelchair basketball teams struggle to find places to practice, because gym staffs often believe wheelchairs can cause damage to basketball courts.
“For the post to open up and say, ‘Bring your team out here to practice,’ is huge,” he said. “It will make a really big difference for our team during the competition.”
The competitors could not have asked for a warmer reception, said retired Cpl. Perry Price.
“People have welcomed us here with open arms,” said Price, who will participate in the track and field and wheelchair basketball events. “The people of Fort Carson have been so great to us. Anything we’ve needed, they have provided for us, and the facilities here are amazing.”
When the Marine Corps Warrior Games team arrived in Colorado Springs, they began training at facilities throughout the city; while the wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball teams held their training routines at Waller Physical Fitness Center on post.
With only two team members having previous Warrior Games experience, the Marine basketball team needed a good facility to grow as a team and as individual players, said Rodney Williams, assistant coach for the Marine Corps Warrior Games Wheelchair Basketball team.
“The gym here has a pretty good court, and the staff has been very understanding of our needs,” said Williams. “This is a great place for us to develop the skills of these new players who are gaining interest in the sport.”
Training for the Warrior Games helps many wounded warriors stay focused on rehabilitation and gives the service members concrete goals to achieve, said Marine Cpl. Anthony McDaniel, artilleryman, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines, attached to 1st Battalion, 11th Marines.
“I’ve loved basketball since I was little,” said McDaniel, who only started playing wheelchair basketball four months before making the Marine Corps team. “Knowing that I can still be an athlete, that I can play the sport I love, means a lot.”
The Warrior Games opening ceremony will take place at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, April 30, at 3:00 p.m. The U.S. Air Force Academy will host this year’s games May 1-5.
During the event, 50 competitors from each of the military branches will pit their individual and collective skills against one another in events ranging from archery to swimming.
While rivalry between the branches makes up a large part of the Warrior Games, overcoming personal challenges motivates service members to compete, said Staff Sgt. Krisell Creager-Lumpkins, petroleum supply specialist, Company A, Fort Carson Warrior Transition Battalion, who will compete in the track and field, swimming, cycling and shooting competitions.
“A year ago I was in really rough shape,” she said. “I was hurt and angry, but I attended the Warrior Games to support another soldier and saw what the games were all about."
“While I was at the games I set a goal for myself. I told my first sergeant, ‘I will be here next year,’” she said. “I knew life would never be the same as before my injury, but I still wanted it to be about something – my personal goals.”