Danny Dudek, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who was wounded in Baghdad and is now deputy chief of staff for the Warrior Transition Command, is making his second trip to the Warrior Games presented by Deloitte exactly one month from today.
Dudek, who served more than 20 years on active duty and three years as a reservist, has participated in cycling events, marathons, sprint triathlons and skis throughout the year.
But for Dudek, who is entered in handcycling and swimming events next month, the Warrior Games is especially motivating.
“Being around other soldiers that are a little ahead of me or a little bit behind me in their recovery, it just re-sparks me for the entire year,” Dudek said. “It motivates me to do triathlons and do half marathons and ski and interact with all these other soldiers and service members.
“It’s just a phenomenal event and I’m kind of addicted to it.”
Wounded, ill and injured service members representing every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, plus a team from the United Kingdom, will compete in the Warrior Games, which will be held from May 11-16 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Approximately 260 athletes are expected to compete in seven sports.
The United States Olympic Committee collaborated with the Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs to create the Warrior Games in 2010.
The U.S. Marine Corps is looking to extend its winning streak at the Warrior Games. It has won the Chairman's Cup all three years of the event.
“Marines are just competitive by nature,” said Gabriel Martinez, a wounded Marine sergeant who will compete in the Warrior Games for the first time this year. “That is just a foundational building block to make a great warrior, which is why I think the Marines have been on this winning streak.”
More importantly, however, is what happens after the event.
“We’ll have an incredible six days in Colorado with all the service branches and our friends from the United Kingdom, where the Paralympic Movement was founded,” said Charlie Huebner, U.S. Olympic Committee Chief of Paralympics. “More importantly, the platform of the Warrior Games creates so much awareness, creates so much energy among the service branches amongst the injured service members and their families, and really brings focus to the importance of physical activity and a successful rehabilitation process.”
Thursday, the one-month countdown to the Warrior Games began. It is a competition that not only tests the physical endurance of wounded service members but also gathers them and their families together in a supportive setting.
The event will attract several Paralympic Games medalists. Brad Snyder, a Navy Lieutenant who competed in the Warrior Games before going to London and winning three Paralympic medals last summer, will be in Colorado Springs in a mentoring role.
“He’s an incredible ambassador for service members and veterans, but also all Americans,” Huebner said of Snyder, who was the flag bearer for the U.S. Paralympic Team at the Closing Ceremony in London.
Prince Harry of the United Kingdom also plans to attend the competition. His visit, which was announced in March, builds up a shared mission of programs between the USOC and the Royal Foundation.
“It’s just phenomenal. I’m really looking forward to having him there,” said Dave Henson, a wounded captain in the British Army who will compete in swimming, sitting volleyball and track.
Joseph A. Frank, a retired Navy Operations Specialist 2nd Class who was severely injured in a car accident involving a drunk driver, will participate in his third Warrior Games. Since competing in the inaugural Warrior Games, Frank has gone on to participate in triathlons and joined a group of disabled veterans in the Sea to Shining Sea cross-country bicycle ride.
“I may not have been involved with that if it wasn’t for the Warrior Games,” he said. “It really opens up your eyes, saying, ‘Oh, you can still do this.’”
“And that’s the most important thing about the Warrior Games,” Huebner said.
“It’s not the six days in Colorado. It’s the energy and the excitement and the increase in participation in their communities."
The athletes competing in the Warrior Games are a combination of first-time participants and some who have competed every year. Men and women compete across all the military service organizations.
Among the first-timers are Martinez, who had parts of both legs amputated after being wounded in Afghanistan in 2010, and Sarah Evans, an Air Force captain who lost her left leg to cancer.
Martinez will compete in four track events (100, 200 and 1,500 runs, plus discus), in addition to swimming events.
“I’ve had the opportunity to train with some of the U.S. Paralympic coaches at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs,” he said. “I have a lot of friends that are Paralympic athletes in the same events. I’m just using that to my advantage.”
Evans has been treated for a cancerous tumor in her hip, served in Afghanistan. She is scheduled to compete in the Ultimate Champion Event and swimming. She is stationed and working out in Texas while communicating daily training plans with her swimming coach in Colorado Springs.
Said Evans: “I’m looking forward to getting out there and showing how far I’ve come.”