COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The U.S. Olympic Committee and Department of Defense held its opening ceremony today for the 2012 Warrior Games at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
More than 200 wounded, ill or injured service members from the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Special Operations Command are scheduled to compete in the Paralympics-style competition May 1-5.
First lady Michelle Obama delivered remarks during the opening ceremony. The Warrior Games coincide with Mrs. Obama’s “Joining Forces” and “Let’s Move!” initiative.
“I am humbled and inspired,” Mrs. Obama said. “As first lady, one of the best parts of my job is spending time with all of you. I get to hear the stories of your service and sacrifice, and that is what moves me so much. I get to see your strength and your determination up close, as you tell me that you’re not just going to walk again -you’re going to run marathons.”
The first lady applauded the athletes for their perseverance and their ability and courage to overcome obstacles after a setback.
“No matter how seriously you’re injured, no matter what obstacles or setbacks you face, you just keep moving forward,” Mrs. Obama said. “You just keep pushing yourself to succeed in ways that just mystify and leave us all in awe, and that’s why I’m so excited to be here this week. All of that is going to be on display for the entire world.”
The first lady said the world will see athletes like Marine Capt. Jon Disbro, who was wounded in Iraq in 2004. After 18 surgeries on his foot and ankle, his leg was amputated below the knee.
“And today he’s the reigning Warrior Games Ultimate champion for his performances in swimming, shooting, sprinting, hiking and shotput,” said Mrs. Obama.
Disbro, from San Jose, Calif., currently serves on active duty at Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity, a component of Marine Corps Systems Command, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Cpl. Anthony McDaniel from Pascagoula, Miss., was selected as the torchbearer for the All-Marine Warrior Games team. McDaniel, a graduate of Gautier High School, was injured Aug. 31, 2010 while on a route clearance patrol in Kajaki, Afghanistan. While waiting for the ordnance disposal crew to arrive after McDaniel found a roadside bomb, he stepped on another IED. He suffered a bilateral amputation and partial hand amputation. McDaniel will compete in track and field and wheelchair basketball.
“It was an extreme honor that I was able to carry the torch for my team,” Daniels said. “I wasn’t thinking much while I was holding it. I was just enjoying the moment and taking photos and carrying the torch at the same time. Now that the ceremony is over and the Games officially kicked off, I’m looking forward to competing and watching the Marines sweep the Chairman’s Cup again.”
Sgt. Than Naing assisted McDaniel down the pathway. Naing, originally from Burma, joined the Corps out of New York after 9/11. He is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran with two Purple Hearts. Naing was wounded while in Marjah, Afghanistan, in June 2010. He suffered gunshot wounds to the chest. Naing will compete in archery.
Thirty-three active duty and 17 veteran Marines comprise the All-Marine team, which were selected during the Marine Corps Trials in California. The team will compete for the Warrior Games Chairman’s cup. The British will also field a team but will not be in contention for the Cup. The athletes will compete in archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball. The Marine team won back-to-back since 2010
Retired Army veteran Melissa Stockwell from Chicago and Royal Marine Captain Simon Maxwell from Croydon, England, were the honorary torchbearers who lit the cauldron to officially kick off the Games.
Captain Maxwell, a member of the British Armed Forces team, an exhibition team made up of 14 men and four women, will participate in his first competition since losing his leg to an improvised explosive device blast in August 2011. Stockwell was the first U.S. female soldier wounded in Iraq. She was severely wounded when her vehicle struck and IED in Baghdad in April 2004. She is the current 2012 Para-triathlon world champion.
The All-Marine team wrapped up a two-week training camp that helped them acclimatize to the weather and sea-level change.
Among the 50-strong are blind Marines, cancer survivors, amputees and those recovering from traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress. World-class coaches, many who are former Olympic competitors or collegiate standouts, flank the Marines.
Col. John Mayer, the commanding officer of Wounded Warrior Regiment addressed the athletes during a dinner Sunday night. Mayer reminded his Marines they were hand chosen to represent the countless of wounded Marines who have been wounded, ill or injured since 9/11, and the thousands of Marines serving overseas.
“What you represent is the absolute best of America,” Mayer said. “By you being here right now, this time and place, is incredible for our country because it shows each and everyone of us that you can’t be beat. The Taliban isn’t going to beat you, an accident isn’t going to beat you and cancer isn’t going to beat you .