COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – With the Opening Ceremony of the Warrior Games presented by Deloitte just a day away, the athletes can be found resting, catching up with old friends, and gearing up for their competitions.
Some athletes are first-time participants, others are returning, but all say that they are excited and ready for the events that will take place May 11-16 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and United States Air Force Academy.
"I am looking forward to some good competition," Army Staff Sergeant Johnnie Yellock said. He is a member of the wheelchair basketball team.
The Warrior Games gives wounded, ill and injured service members from all U.S. military branches and the United Kingdom an opportunity to show off their skills and compete against one another.
"I’ve got a lot of friends on a lot of different teams, so coming back for the second year in a row and seeing a bunch of familiar faces is good. It will be fun!"
There are 260 athletes from the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Special Operations and the British Armed Forces participating in the Games. Although they come from different backgrounds and are here to compete against one another, they say they are all a part of the same team.
“The games are just another way for us to have that camaraderie, have that team and be around people who have had similar experiences,” Army Specialist Elizabeth Wasil said. She is competing in cycling and track and field, including shot put and discus.
She says that the most rewarding part of the Games is that they get to inspire others and show them that they can “focus on something other than their pain.”
The sports featured in the Warrior Games are archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball. Several of the athletes are playing multiple sports.
Army Sergeant Sean Karpf was injured June 2012 and had his left leg amputated below the knee. He says that while he was lying in the hospital bed, he spoke to a member of the Navy team who had just finished participating in the Games.
“As soon as he told me about it, I decided right then that I was going to do the next year’s [Warrior Games].”
Eleven months later, and after a lot of training and conditioning, he will be competing in all the swimming and track events, with the exception of the relays. Despite only having his running leg for three months, he says that he is getting stronger every day and looks forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.
Coaches also say that it is humbling and exciting to be amongst such talented and driven individuals.
“I am blessed, honored and very happy to be here and to give to the military men and women,” said Lee Montgomery, former U.S. Paralympian and coach for Army.
Brent Peterson, the head coach for the Marine’s sitting volleyball team, says that he is impressed by the shear strength and determination of all the athletes. When he first came to the Games four years ago, he saw a triple amputee swimming and said that it was incredible to watch.
“It’s kind of an unparalleled body of individuals who are given a choice to give up or push on,” Peterson said. “Everyone here has made that choice to push on.
"It’s great because what others see as disabilities become their do-abilities.”
Peterson, along with his fellow coaches, is eager to share is knowledge of sports with the athletes. He is also confident that the U.S. Marine Corps team, the three-time defending champion of the Chairman’s Cup award, will win again.
However, he admits that other branches have placed a greater emphasis on training and coaching this year and that he expects stiff competition.
“We have a really strong Army team and we should definitely take the Chairman's Cup this year,” Staff Sergeant Chanda Gaeth said.
“The Marines need to watch out because we’re here to take it!”
For more on the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit teamusa.org/warriorgames/.