By Crystal Marshall (Editor)December 26, 2017
WASHINGTON -- From the sun-warmed tennis courts of Toronto during the Invictus Games, to a snow-covered football field in Philadelphia for the annual Army-Navy football showdown, Soldier-athletes gave their all in multiple sporting competitions this year. Here are a few of the highlights from those inspiring events.
At the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, more than 550 wounded, ill and injured service members from 17 nations competed in 12 sporting events, including archery, track and field, cycling, golf, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball.
Of the 90 U.S. service personnel who competed in the games, 15 represented the Army, including medically-retired U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. Roosevelt Anderson. After a motorcycle accident in 2012 left him a paraplegic, Anderson turned to sports for recovery and therapy. At last year's Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, he took home three gold and two silver medals, and he hopes to add golf to his sports list for the 2018 games.
Anderson said the camaraderie among his team members and with athletes from other countries was one of his favorite parts of the Invictus Games. "It was an honor to serve for the U.S. and with my comrades and our allies," the former OH-58 Kiowa helicopter mechanic said. "I've been with Invictus since London, so I see a lot of the guys that I met four years ago and a lot of new faces."
Anderson said that anyone who gets the chance should witness the Invictus Games. "All of these athletes here, the reason they're competing is because they have a mission and that mission drives them to be better every day," he said.
He also encouraged disabled service members who may be considering adaptive sports to give it a try.
"I literally tried everything; even things that were difficult to do but then I found everything I was good at," Anderson said. "I encourage people to just try things differently. Leave your home; leave your bubble. Get out of your environment and try something different because you never know what you're made of."
The USA wheelchair basketball team, of which Anderson was a member, won gold at this year's Invictus Games.
DOD WARRIOR GAMES
Created in 2010, the Department of Defense Warrior Games provides wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans with the opportunity to compete with one another in paralympic-style sports. Held this year in Chicago, the games created a healthy sense of competition between service branches but also unite all participants in a common spirit of camaraderie and encouragement.
In wheelchair basketball, medically retired Army Sgt. Jhoonar Barrera sank a free throw with 23.5 seconds remaining on the clock to seal a 56-55 Army victory over Navy in the final to win gold.
Barrera, the team captain, said he didn't realize until later that his foul shot would prove to be the game winner, and that he considers the gold medal victory to be a team effort.
"It was a team effort, so I'm proud because my team believed in me, and I believed in them. I wanted them to step it up, and they came through for us in the last minutes to help me get to the line. It was great," he said.
"My team -- I can't love them enough. It feels so great that we just believed in each other in the end, and that's all that mattered," Barrera added, emotionally.
Comedian Jon Stewart, who participated in a celebrity wheelchair basketball exhibition match between the gold and bronze medal matches, said he was excited to watch the gold medal matchup.
Stewart said he hoped the fans who watched the game "will take away an admiration for the resilience and tenacity of the competition but also remember that this is the tip of the spear.
"These are the guys who came in," he said. "For every one, there's a hundred behind them who are going through challenges and difficulties of their own. Keep the warriors in your mind, even the ones you don't see. Understand that that's what they're going through."
ARMY DEFEATS NAVY, 14-13
As hundreds of West Point cadets poured out from the stands onto a snow-covered Lincoln Financial Field here following a 14-13 triumph over Navy, Army celebrated what was perhaps a turning point in the storied rivalry between the two schools.
For West Point's Class of 2018, being a part of the football tradition that shifted the rivalry in Army's favor after losing 14 straight to the Midshipmen made the victory all the sweeter.
More than 68,000 spectators, including 4,000 West Point cadets, braved frigid temperatures and snow to attend the game.
After pounding their way to a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, Army trailed the midshipmen for most of the contest. Navy led 13-7 before a late run by senior running back John Trainor put Army at the one half yard line. Senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, behind a smothering effort by the Black Knights' offensive line, scored the winning touchdown to put Army ahead.
"For us this game is a really great rivalry because it's really the two biggest services duking it out," said Cadet Nicholas Miller. "But in the future we're basically going to be serving side by side combating U.S. enemies. To me personally, as a cadet, this is a way of just having that competitive spirit of 'we are America and we're the best,' and we have to be the best in the world to fight and win the nation's wars."
Army coach Jeff Monken said he noticed a stronger bond among Army's football players during the postgame celebration after winning the Commander-in-Chief's trophy for the second straight season.
"The brotherhood is alive in that locker room," Monken said. "I am privileged to be a part of this team and to represent the great Academy and the United States Army and for all those that serve all over the world. It is an incredible feeling."
(Editor's Note: This article is part of a series reflecting on the top Army events of 2017. This article is a compilation of three different articles, whose links are below: "Medically retired Special Forces Soldier returns to Invictus Games to defend titles," by Shannon Collins, "Go Army, Beat Navy! Army team wins gold in Warrior Games wheelchair basketball," by Shannon Collins, and "Strong bond among players, fellow cadets propels Army to second straight win over Navy," by Joe Lacdan.)