Warrior Games ends with champions

By Brandon Penny | May 16, 2013, 11:30 p.m. (ET)

The U.S. Marine Corps earned its fourth consecutive Chairman's Cup trophy at the fourth annual Warrior Games presented by Deloitte.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics for the United States Olympic Committee, summed up the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte best when he said: “This week started with a Missy, a Brad, a torch and a prince. It ends with champions.”

The fourth annual Warrior Games kicked off Saturday with Navy Lt. and three-time Paralympic medalist Brad Snyder, five-time Olympic medalist Missy Franklin and Prince Harry lighting the cauldron, but Thursday night’s closing ceremony proved to be a night to celebrate the champions of the past six days. Several hundred athletes, families and friends gathered at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. for the Warrior Games closing ceremony, which was highlighted by two of the Games’ most prestigious awards. The Chairman’s Cup was awarded to the Marines and the title of Ultimate Champion went to Air Force Capt. Mitchell Kieffer (Newport News, Va.).

The Chairman's Cup is a team award based on each team's top finishes in individual events as well as sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball, the two team sports contested at the Warrior Games. The 2013 Warrior Games consisted of 260 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans of five U.S. teams (Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations) and the British Armed Forces team competing over six days.

The Marines now have earned the Chairman’s Cup at all four Warrior Games. The Marines claimed this year’s Chairman's Cup with 100 points, which is attributed to the team’s 36 medals in track and field, 34 medals in swimming, 13 medals in shooting, four medals in archery and four medals in cycling, along with gold in sitting volleyball and silver in wheelchair basketball. Army finished second with 85 points, while Navy finished third, Air Force fourth and Special Operations took fifth.

“I think every branch is strong, honestly,” said Marines Cpl. Breanna Dill (Oceanside, Calif.). “I just think the Marines winning the Chairman’s Cup means we put in a lot of effort and a lot of time, and we put everything into it. That doesn’t mean none of the rest of the branches did, but I know my teammates did as well and ultimately we just came out on top.”

Last October, Dill was wounded in Camp Pendleton, Calif., when an object hit the left side of her head, cutting her head open and leaving her unconscious for the next three days. When Dill awoke, she no longer had feeling below her knees and learned she had suffered a traumatic brain injury, in addition to swelling of the brain and pressure on her spinal cord.

As Mark Goulart, principal and lead client service provider for Deloitte’s Veterans Affairs, stated during the closing ceremony, “The Warrior Games is not the end point, but it’s a beginning.”

That statement rang true for Dill, who is already looking forward to returning to the competition next year. At her first Warrior Games, Dill earned three medals in the swimming SCI class: gold in 100-meter freestyle and silver in both the 50m freestyle and 50m backstroke.

“I loved the Warrior Games,” Dill said. “I can’t wait until next year. In (50-meter backstroke) swimming, my competitor and I were really close to each other with time that I can’t wait to compete against her again, so that way I can take the gold.”

While Dill and her “Semper Fidelis” (Marines’ motto, translated to “always faithful”) teammates proved to be the strongest team of the competition, the fiercest individual of the Games turned out to be Air Force Capt. Mitchell Kieffer.

Kieffer was crowned Ultimate Champion, a title based on five competitions: 50-meter freestyle in swimming; 10m prone air rifle, shooting; 100m sprint, track; race based on disability category, cycling; and shot put, field. He became the first Air Force athlete in Warrior Games history to earn the title.

“It feels fantastic,” Kieffer said. “I couldn’t be happier having my family here, too. Ana Cristina and Ana Paula are my biggest fans. They still think I’m Superman, so this should help at least for a couple more years.”

Kieffer brought his two daughters, Ana Cristina, 8, and Ana Paula, 13, on stage with him to accept his award. His daughters, along with his mother Robin, had been in Colorado Springs all week to support him. Kieffer’s wife, Ana Maria, was only able to make a brief appearance at the competition because of her job, but she flew in on day two and surprised her husband.

“It was the best present having my girls and my mother here,” Kieffer said.

This was the first Warrior Games appearance for Kieffer, who suffers a traumatic brain injury and compression fractures in his back from injuries sustained when his convoy was attacked in Baghdad in the final month of his first-ever deployment. En route to becoming the 2013 Ultimate Champion, he earned a silver medal in the 10 meter prone air rifle competition, finished fourth in the men's bicycle open event and the 50m freestyle. In track and field, he finished seventh in the men's 100m and eighth in the shot put. Kieffer already has plans to return next year and improve on his performance. After all, he had such a great time at this year’s Games.

“It’s almost euphoric just to be connected to so many great people, and I feel everyone is better than myself,” he said. “I’m in awe with a lot of my teammates, my coaches and the other service athletes. I don’t feel worthy, so it’s a very exciting honor just to be here.”

The joy and passion these Games brought to all 260 athletes who competed, whether they are first-timers like Cpl. Dill and Capt. Kieffer, or veterans who have competed at every Warrior Games to date, was evident through all six days of competition.

“Millions got to see the importance of sport in the rehabilitation process,” Charlie Huebner said at the closing ceremony.

One of the millions was Herschel Walker, winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy and 1992 Olympic bobsledder. Walker attended several events throughout the week, to meet and support athletes from all six teams. He said he was “totally impressed” with his first Warrior Games experience and wished more people could see the event.

“The Warrior Games is important because it shows they’re still soldiers; they’re still guys who can get it done, and that’s what they did,” Walker said. “They did things a lot of people can’t do, a lot people are not doing, and that’s very important.”

For more on the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit teamusa.org/warriorgames/.