FORT KNOX, Kentucky -- When her platoon sergeant asked for volunteers who liked swimming or cycling and would be willing to attend a developmental clinic for the upcoming Warrior Games, Sgt. Alaina Barnes raised her hand and said she enjoyed both.

Barnes, 26, of Charlie Company, Fort Knox Warrior Transition Battalion, didn't have a bike at Fort Knox with her, so her chain of command opted to put her in for the swimming clinic. Growing up in Akron, Ohio, with a swimming pool in her backyard, she said she always enjoyed swimming, but never did it competitively.

"At that point, I didn't even know what the Warrior Games was," she admitted. She attended swim clinics for the team in October, January, and March, and soon after, received a letter in the mail congratulating her for being selected to the U.S. Army team. "Once I got there and realized what it was, I decided to do it to the best of my ability."

Less than a year after volunteering for that first clinic, she swam in the Warrior Games - her first competitive swim meet - ultimately bringing home one gold in the 100-meter freestyle and two silver medals, in the 50-meter freestyle and 50-meter backstroke. She medaled in all three swim events offered for females at the Warrior Games.

The Warrior Games is a joint endeavor between the U.S. Olympic Committee, Deloitte and the U.S. Department of Defense. More than 200 wounded, ill, or injured athletes from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Special Operations Command and the United Kingdom compete for gold in seven sports. The competition is hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee's Paralympic Military Program in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Eligibility includes wounded, ill, or injured service members with the following injury categories: amputations, spinal cord injuries, visual impairment, post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury (this category also includes cerebral palsy and stroke).

Barnes, who joined the National Guard in 2007 as a communications specialist, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury while deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 with the 1484th Transportation Company, Ohio National Guard. She was first sent to Fort Hood, Texas, and was later reassigned to the Fort Knox Warrior Transition Battalion to continue healing and begin the process of returning to civilian life.

While at the Fort Knox WTB, Barnes became heavily involved in the Soldier Adaptive Reconditioning Program, which provides exercise and sporting events for Soldiers to aid in their recovery. She participated in the sports and eventually became an instructor for other Warrior Transition Battalion Soldiers.

"SARP has been wonderful," she said. "It has been very helpful with recovering for me medically, physically and mentally. Michele (Hekeler) and Amber (Barthel) have been extremely supportive and helpful, coaching me, training with me and working out. SARP is a phenomenal program and I don't think it is utilized here as much as it should be."

For Barnes, the best part of competing in the Warrior Games was meeting other Soldiers who have gone through similar experiences.

"Getting to meet other Soldiers out there with goals, who are moving forward with their life, that was mentally uplifting," she said.

She also thought seeing military leadership present at the Warrior Games, such as LTG Patricia Horoho, the Army Surgeon General, and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, meant a lot to the athletes competing.

"It was very nice to see them out there supporting and cheering just like everybody else was," she said. "It was interesting to see them in that environment."

Overall, Barnes said the Warrior Games experience is one she would not trade for anything.

"To date, this is the most phenomenal experience I've had in the military," she said.

Next for Barnes is continuing her time at Fort Knox as she gets closer to separating from the military and returning home. She's already decided to continue swimming and hopes to make the team next year again, as a veteran this time around. She's also debating on trying cycling next year, too, and with her natural talent in swimming, could easily be a contender.



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Page last updated Tue May 28th, 2013 at 00:00