Wounded warriors compete at Fort Meade
March 15, 2012
- 2012 Warrior Games tryouts draw nearly 50 Soldiers, veterans.
- Athletes competed in track and field events, cycling and sitting volleyball at installation facilities.
- The Warrior Games was established in 2010 to allow wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans to compete against teams of all military branches in Paralympic sports.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- Nearly four years ago, Michael Kacer was struck by a Chinese missile while moving through an Afghanistan building and lost his left arm from the shoulder down.
While recovering from his injury, the medically retired staff sergeant focused on the only sport he thought was left for him -- running. This week, however, Kacer was on Mullins Field throwing a discus and a 6-kilogram ball, in between his several track events and swimming at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"I thought I just had running," Kacer said. "I kept myself really narrowed on that because I didn't actually fathom I'd be as versatile as I am."
Kacer was among the nearly 50 Soldiers and veterans who traveled to Fort Meade to compete for a spot on the Army team at the 2012 Warrior Games. The camp opened March 8 and continued daily until the closing ceremony Monday afternoon.
Athletes competed in track and field events, cycling and sitting volleyball at installation facilities, while the swimming events were held at Walter Reed as part of the Army team's consolidated qualifying camp. Qualification camps will also be held for shooting, archery and wheelchair basketball at separate sites.
The camps are conducted to pare down a large field of athletes trying to make the team. More than 300 Soldiers and veterans applied to participate in the Warrior Games, but only 50 will earn a spot on the team.
Previous camps helped coaches sort through all the applicants and find the best athletes. The top remaining athletes attended the qualification camp at Fort Meade for their last shot at making the team.
"Some of you in this room right now will represent the 10,000 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers, active Guard and Reserve, and veterans," said Brig. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, commander of the Warrior Transition Command in Alexandria, Va., during Monday's closing ceremony.
The Warrior Games was established in 2010 to allow wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans to compete against teams of all military branches in Paralympic sports. This year's competition will be held from April 30 to May 5 at Colorado Springs, Colo.
During his remarks at the closing ceremony, Williams referred to the event as the Super Bowl for wounded warriors. Despite the high level of competition, Williams said the athletes didn't need to earn a medal to be considered champions.
"In my mind, we don't need a Warrior Games to validate your service to your country, to your family, to your wingman, to your brother, to your sister," he said. "You are all already champions."
Jessie White, who was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Meade before medically retiring as a staff sergeant, said it is "awesome" to represent the Army at the Warrior Games.
White has attended both Warrior Games, earning a silver medal in the shot put in 2010. This year, he attempted to qualify as a veteran, competing in the shot put, discus and sitting volleyball.
"Last year there were 100 people; this year there's only 50 spots to go," White said. "The whole weekend for all the different events will be extremely competitive."
While the camp was competitive by nature, Kacer said all of the athletes helped each other improve. If a coach was working with other athletes, it wasn't uncommon for an experienced Soldier to help someone new.
"Everybody is everybody's coach," he said.
Kacer was aiming to make the Army team for a second year after competing in the first Warrior Games and missing last year's event.
During the four-day camp, Kacer had a busy schedule as he tried to qualify in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 1500-meter, 4x100-meter relay on the track; 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke, 100-meter freestyle and 4x200-meter relay in the pool; and the shot put and discus. Training for all events, Kacer said, is intense.
"There's tons of time and effort, blood, sweat and tears that going into getting here," he said.
Although most of the athletes had sports experience prior to their injuries, Warrior Games events and equipment are modified to accommodate the service members' injuries, such as recumbent bicycles for cycling and a smaller volleyball court where players sit on the ground.
"Some of these guys may have been cyclists or runners before they got injured," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Duralde of adaptive reconditioning at WTC. "What we're doing is adapting it to their injuries."
Other athletes, however, had never competed in the event they attempted to qualify for. For the coaches, this meant starting with the very basics.
"Three weeks ago I found myself starting from scratch with athletes that wanted to do it but never did," said Millie Daniels, Army's field coach. "They were very motivated. They get the technique, and go back and train and just get better."
In addition to earning a spot on the team, several athletes said they participated in the events because they wanted to show spectators that their disabilities are not as important as what they still can do.
Kacer said watching the injured Soldiers and veterans compete can be inspirational.
"We got injured having a bad day; that's how we got here." he said, recalling his own injury on June 18, 2008. "It's about moving on and progressing and not let anything stop you."
Duralde, a Soldier who lost his left leg in Afghanistan, said the Warrior Games and the camps show the attitude and drive of the injured service members.
"We're showing the Army what wounded warriors are all about," he said, "striving to be better, getting past whatever difficulty we had and moving on."