At the Warrior Games, don't focus on the wheels

By Brian Hightower | May 06, 2012, 12:30 p.m. (ET)

Watch Kionte Storey run. A coiled spring in the blocks, then the gun goes off, and suddenly he’s a gust of wind.  A massive but calm upper body lies in contrast to the frenzy below. Yet his stride is effortless. One foot, one blade in harmony. 

He just went 100 meters in 12.32 seconds.  That’s flying.

In September of 2010, Corporal Storey lost his lower right leg in an IED blast in Afghanistan. 

Don’t focus on his blade. Focus on the track and the clock.  He is.

Brad Snyder can flat out swim. Grace and power in perfect aquatic balance.  Deft hands scoop the surface as legs churn a white froth behind him.  He’s got a flip-turn like Michael Phelps. There’s the wall, and he’s off again. He wants to go to the Paralympic Games in London. 

He just went 100 meters in a less than a minute.  Aquaman.

In September of last year, Lt. Brad Snyder, an explosive ordinance officer (EOD) was on patrol to diffuse bombs in Afghanistan.  He heard a click, turned around, and was blinded permanently by the explosion.  He’s got new eyes now.  They’re blue. 

Don’t focus on his eyes.  Focus on the pool and the stopwatch.  He does.

There’s Israel “DT” Del Toro.  You can’t miss him.  He’s the one shooting the back out of the target with his rifle for the Special Ops Command.  Gun and flesh become one finely tuned instrument.  Hold a penny 30 yards away, and he could give Lincoln a haircut.

He just nailed the center of the bullseye for a 10.7.  Precision. 

On a roadside in Afghanistan in 2005, the victim of an IED, TSGT Del Toro was engulfed in flames, and suffered third degree burns over his entire body. 

Don’t focus on his burns.  Focus on the target, the gun and the score. That’s what he’s focused on.

Look, there’s no denying the emotional force of these 2012 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte.  It is stronger than gravity.  And if you can’t be inspired by what you see at this event, you are officially a lost cause.

But if all you take away from these Games is a resolution to change your own life because of your new source of inspiration (for mine, see above), or if you got to have a good cry watching Pa, the legless British soldier from Gambia struggle through the last lap of the 1500 meters by himself (guilty here), then you are missing a large part of what these Games are about.

These are athletes first and foremost. Good ones. They train hard, and their dedication is unquestionable.  A few are good enough to represent the U.S. at the Paralympic Games. But they are all competitors, nonetheless. Contrary to what some may think, most are not “just happy to be here".  Think it’s just about showing up? Watch the Army and the Marines play wheelchair basketball. Those guys came to play! 

One of the biggest challenges at the Warrior Games is for the viewing public, the so-called “able-bodied”, to change the perceptions of what a real athlete looks like and what a good athletic contest is.  It is OK to be moved, just don’t get too caught up with an athletes limitations, or you’ll miss the true ability on display. 

See, while you were focusing on his wheelchair, Cpl. Anthony McDaniel just ripped up 200 meters in thirty-four seconds. 

Don’t focus on the wheels...