COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — At the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte in Colorado Springs, Colo., the first day of competition concluded with sitting volleyball. Defending champion Army and Marines, the two teams that met in the final of the 2012 Warrior Games, are 2-0.
In the first match-ups of an evening that saw six sitting volleyball matches at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Marines smoked the British Armed Forces 2-0 (25-11, 25-14) while Navy solidly won two sets against Air Force (25-13, 25-15), Army easily defeated Special Operations 25-21 and 25-12.
With teams warmed-up, the second round match-ups proved to be much more competitive, with many athletes playing flawless volleyball.
Marines defeated Navy in two sets (28-26, 25-19) while Special Operations and the British Armed Forces battled it out on Court 2, splitting sets. SOCOM came back from a 25-17 loss in the first set to emerge victorious, winning the last two sets 25-22, 15-9.
On Court 1, Air Force pulled off a surprising upset over Army in the first set of the match, winning 25-18. Army fought back after an impressive second set, where they turned the tide on Air Force and won 25-20. Once momentum shifted away from Air Force, Army went rolling along, winning 15-13.
Cliff Robinson, a cadre member from Army, predicted a good week ahead for his team.
“Last year we won gold in sitting volleyball, so returning as the defending champs feels great," he said. "We've got a solid team this year and our guys are amped up to make something happen.
Robinson also stressed the important bond his team shares that transcends performance on the court.
“Despite how we do this year, we’re going to have a great time at the Warrior Games," he said. "During my service, I was deployed to Afghanistan and have been around these guys for years and they are truly great men. I can’t speak enough about their determination and extreme commitment and we have a bond that's impossible to break,” he said.
While Army celebrated victory on one court, Army veteran Victor Sassoon (Dupont, Wash.), a Special Operations commander in the 75th Regimen, was dancing in the middle of the SOCOM team huddle, hoping to pump up his teammates. He does not compete in sitting volleyball but is looking for gold in shooting Monday and archery Wednesday.
“I was severely wounded while deployed, which resulted being in a coma for a month, among other issues," said Sassoon, who served 18 years in the army before medically retiring. "I wasn’t able to speak and was so unhappy, I tried committing suicide."
Sassoon cites his team, the Warrior Games and other wounded veterans events as the reason he was able to overcome his depression.
“I finally began realizing that bad things are going to happen, and it's all in the way you process it. My entire right side of my body is still numb and I had a traumatic brain injury so I can’t remember some things, but I stopped feeling sorry for myself and found ways to get involved,” he said.
Sassoon, who is competing at his second Warrior Games, is making sure to enjoy every part of it.
“These guys wouldn't know what to do without me. They need me around,” he said before darting off to start a team cheer.
Another member of the SOCOM team, retired Army Sgt. Jeremy Blanchette (Woodlawn, Tenn.), had an entire cheering squad at the match. Blanchette's family flew to Colorado Springs to support him. He could not be happier about it.
“My family is my inspiration,” he said, “They helped me overcome so many obstacles and consistently support me in whatever I do.”
While Blanchette is up for the challenge of the Warrior Games after overcoming the injuries caused in a parachute accident, he says it is nothing compared to hand delivering his daughter in his own home.
“See that girl over there? That’s my daughter. She’s my princess," Blanchette said. "My wife and I, we delivered her in our home, by ourselves with no help. We had the umbilical cord cut, tied and everything else before help arrived. Honestly, I’d rather be shot at any day than go through that again—it was terrifying. But now, my daughter and I have a bond that no one can ever take away from me."
With his daughter in the stands, Blanchette hopes to win a gold medal.
After the opening day, Army and Marines are 2-0 while Navy and SOCOM are 1-0. Air Force and British Armed Forces both look for an opening victory Monday after finishing 0-2 on opening day.
Sitting volleyball action continues Monday with Army against British Armed Forces, Navy against SOCOM and Air Force against Marines. The nightcaps include Army against Marines, the same opponents from last year's gold medal match, SOCOM against Air Force and Navy against British Armed Forces.
Admission to Warrior Games is free.
For more on 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit teamusa.org/warriorgames/.