Craig Smith, left, and Filipe Hill block a Navy competitor during wheelchair basketball preliminaries May 11 at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. Army won the match.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - It's been three days since the start of the inaugural Warrior Games for wounded, ill and injured service members at the Olympic Training Center, and the commander of the Warrior Transition Command is already dreaming about future competitions.

BG Gary H. Cheek, who is also the assistant surgeon general of warrior care and transition, said he hopes the games will become an annual event with additional sporting categories, winter sports and even the participation of U.S. allies.

Cheek helped conceive the competition after a 50-mile bike ride with "Ride to Recovery," in April 2009. That event involves wounded warriors participating in a 500-mile, cross-country ride. The games came from a conversation he had with Ride to Recovery's founder and a representative of the United Service Organizations, who had asked what else the USO could do for wounded warriors, he said.

"Between the three of us, we kind of came up with ... an Olympic competition, where we bring all these warriors from the services to compete against each other and really maximize this notion of physical competition," Cheek said.

He said it'd been years since he'd been on a bicycle, and while he rode only 50 miles of the 500-mile journey, the experience awoke in him a feeling he thought others might benefit from.

"I got a sense of accomplishment that I made it 50 miles on a bike and so did all those warriors, and heck, they went on and rode for 500 miles," Cheek said. "That's what we're trying to get. There's a much greater sense of accomplishment by doing something very, very challenging."

The Warrior Games in Colorado, he said, is just the kind of challenging event that can give Soldiers that sense of accomplishment.

"(It) gets them out here, knocking heads, competing hard, doing things that are difficult," he said. "It gives a sense of purpose and reward."

The resulting games have exceeded his expectations, Cheek said, while watching Army beat Navy during the wheelchair basketball preliminaries Monday. It shows service members that there is life after their injuries, and is a testimony to the care and skill of military medical professionals, especially as some of the Soldiers have been injured only months ago and are competing in as many as three events.

"It's pretty miraculous what our medical departments in the various services have been able to do to help all of these warriors heal and continue to move forward," Cheek said.

Service members at the games are competing not just in sports they are familiar with or have in the past enjoyed, but in other sports as well. That's partly a design of the Warrior Transition Command - to expose service members to new challenges.

"That's where they find these new abilities and new sports that they can potentially do for the rest of their lives," Cheek said.

He said he hopes the warriors will take their new Olympic spirit home and inspire their comrades and battle buddies.
"The No. 1 thing I asked all of them to do was to take this flame this Olympic torch, this spirit it has brought into them - back to their comrades who are also recovering and moving forward and light that spark in them," Cheek said.

Page last updated Thu May 13th, 2010 at 16:55