Warrior's grit, father's heart

By Spencer Oshman | Oct. 03, 2014, 4:30 p.m. (ET)
McDaniel and the Marine Corps face Army in the wheelchair basketball gold-medal game Friday night.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. ― Marine Corps Sgt. Anthony McDaniel could have been a great football player.

In wheelchair basketball, the Pascagoula, Mississippi native, plays the passing lane to perfection, reading the offense and getting to the spot of the ball ahead of the opposition. With the blink of an eye McDaniel has stolen the ball, weaved around any traffic and made a pass-to-score that even Peyton Manning would have to double take at this year’s Warrior Games presented by Deloitte.

McDaniel, 26, does all of this without legs and with only one hand.

In August 2010, McDaniel was on a routine clearance patrol while stationed as an artilleryman in Kajaki, Afghanistan. En route, he identified multiple improvised explosive devices, but before he could contact his team members, one of the IEDs detonated. Several days later, McDaniel woke up in a German hospital bed with his legs severed and his left hand amputated at the wrist.

A life-long athlete, McDaniel grew up playing basketball, football and baseball, while also competing in track and field. He decided to join the Marines in 2007, after playing one year of collegiate basketball at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi.

Fast-forward to 2011. After more than a year of rehabilitation at the Naval Medical Center off the west coast of San Diego, McDaniel found a sense of tranquility in adaptive sports.

“It’s just been helping me stay focused and positive,” McDaniel said. “It keeps me out and active every day.”

The veteran sergeant has always been a big fan of basketball, but transitioning to wheelchair basketball, McDaniel wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I love the sport in itself, I always have,” McDaniel explained. “A few years ago, when I was told that the Marine Corps were putting a program together, I was all about it. I was excited to try something new, but I didn’t know how intense it would be!”

It’s obvious, by watching him play, how much McDaniel relishes the intensity found in wheelchair basketball. Despite being at a disadvantage with a single hand, the point guard uses his superior quickness and heady instincts to make big plays, time and time again.

“I think the game through. I try to take advantage of good clock management and get my teammates involved,” McDaniel revealed. “At the end of the day, I just leave everything out on the court. If I do make a mistake, I make it 100-percent.”

McDaniel isn’t just a one-sport athlete. He also competes for the Marine Corps Track & Field Team, taking home the gold in all five categories he competed in at this week’s Warrior Games: discus, shot put, 100-meter , 200m and 400m, where he competes in a wheelchair.

He hopes to take his talent to the next level and compete for the U.S. Paralympic Team one day, but for now the father of two assures his family is his priority.

“I just love taking my kids to their soccer games and cheerleading competitions,” McDaniel passionately boasts. “I would love to represent my country again, by playing for Team USA, but my kids always come first. They are my motivation. Being with good company, good friends and good family is what’s most important in my life.”

McDaniel also has plans of a fulfilled future. After the New Year, he will be moving to Florida with the goal of finishing his education.

“I hope I can get into the University of Alabama and join their team, but if not, I will be attending the University of West Florida to finish up my degree in accounting and financial management,” McDaniel said.

The future holds countless possibilities for the religious man of morals and an extraordinary outlook on life.

“Regardless of anything that happens to you, don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something,” McDaniel says. “As long as you have the right mindset and the right work-ethic, and you keep God first, the world is yours. Nobody can stop you but yourself.”

Sgt. McDaniel won gold in five track and field events at the 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte.

For the next couple of days, however, McDaniel’s future will be put on hold, as he continues to represent the Marine Corps for a chance at the 2014 Chairman’s Cup. The Cup, which the Marines have won at each of the four previous Warrior Games, is given to the branch with the best cumulative performance at the Games.

In Wednesday night’s semifinal game against Army, the Marines used a second-half surge led by McDaniel’s stellar ball movement and sound defensive effort to get the win. Despite being down 16-14 at the half, McDaniel and company held a defending champion Army team to just five second-half points, winning the game 42-21.

“This is my third year. We’ve won silver the past two years in wheelchair basketball, so we’re looking to move up a medal this year,” he said.  “But no matter what branch it is that wins, it’s all in good fun and the Warrior Games makes for a great time. Children are smiling and running around, while family and friends are out here supporting all of us. The military is one big family.”

Sergeant by rank and floor general by court, McDaniel will try to lead his team to a gold medal in wheelchair basketball Friday evening as the Marines face Army, the team that beat Navy to advance from the bronze-medal game in the double-elimination bracket. Army is defending champion.

“I feel like we have a good team, great supporting staff and great athletes. Third time’s a charm, right?”

McDaniel grins ear-to-ear.

The smile could only be bigger if his team won gold.

The game is set for 5:30 p.m. at U.S. Olympic Training Center, Sports Center 1. Admission is free and open to the public.

For more on the 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit TeamUSA.org/warriorgames/.