Military leaders visit Olympic Training Center for Train the Trainers event

Nov. 13, 2009, 1:07 p.m. (ET)

The U.S. Olympic Committee Paralympic Military Program hosted about 50 military leaders at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. for a three-day "Train the Trainers" event.

Members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces came from nearly 20 installations across the U.S. and Europe to learn how to implement sports and physical activity programs for injured service members.

Occupational therapists, physical therapists, recreation therapists and squad leaders were introduced to a number of Paralympic sports and learned how participation in sports and access to regular physical activity programs can enhance the rehabilitation process of wounded warriors.

According to Lesley Vaughn, an occupational therapist at Ft. Lewis (Tacoma, Wash.), "Often times when someone says adaptive sports, they don't necessarily want to play an adaptive sport, but once they try it they like it, have fun and come back, they get something out of it not just athletic training but also the full aspect lifting the human sprit and building morale." 

The transition from soldier to civilian is not based solely on physical rehabilitation; it also focuses on mental recovery as well. 

Stephanie Barnes, whose husband is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was a collegiate swimmer at Auburn University. She uses swimming as a tool to help wounded warriors recover from their injuries.

"From doing this the past two years, we've had a lot of injured guys, you take care of the mind first and then the body follows afterwards; mentally it is so motivating and physically they get back into the shape they were in before they were injured," said Barnes.

Mental and physical changes aren't the only thing affected when a service member becomes injured, family dynamics also change. Including sports and as part of the rehabilitation process has proven to be a useful tool in bringing families together and showing them that they can all still be active together, in spite of one member having a physical injury.   

"When people go back to their units all the parents sit and play sit volleyball while the kids get to stand and that changes family dynamics" says Cindy Burkhour a recreational therapist from Michigan.

Many of the program attendees were learning about and trying Paralympic sports for the first time.  This hands-on training provides them the opportunity to return to their base with first-hand knowledge of the sports and a greater understanding of what they will be teaching their service members.

"These sports are totally new to me, by being around Paralympic athletes I can see sports are a bigger part of the recovery for injured soldiers, and if you can help one person another person will come and help plant the seed, it means so much to me, there's people who really need your help and this brings a lot of enjoyment," said Staff Sergeant Jacques Vicker squad leader at Fort Benning, Ga.  

U.S. Paralympics is working with Army Warrior Transition Units, Marine Wounded Warrior Battalions, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to implement ongoing sports and physical activity programs at military installations around the world for injured service members.  The program is supported by the Department of Defense.