HERNDON, Va. (Army News Service, Sept. 8, 2014) -- Some 400 wounded, ill or injured warriors from the U.S. and 13 other allied nations will compete at the first-ever Invictus Games in London, Sept. 10-14.
Scheduled events are: Sept. 10, opening ceremony; Sept. 11, track and field events; Sept. 12, wheelchair rugby and archery; Sept. 13, road cycling, wheelchair basketball and indoor rowing; and Sept. 14, sitting volleyball, powerlifting, swimming and relay racing.
"You stand bloody but unbowed; amongst the very best of all of us," said Maj. Gen. Buster Howe, U.K. defence attaché at the British Embassy and former Royal Marine Corps commandant, saluting the dozens of U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines at a pep rally here, Sept. 5, as they prepared to depart for the first Invictus Games in London.
James D. Rodrigues, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Warrior Care Policy, also exhorted the athletes.
"On this international platform, you will be sharing the competitive stage alongside those with whom you have served and defended on the battlefield. In you, the world will see the finest of America through your strength, determination and camaraderie you share, not only with your teammates, but also with your brothers-and-sisters-in-service from around the world."
Some of the athletes were interviewed at the pep rally.
COMMUNITY OF SUPPORTERS
Lt. Col. Danny Dudek, a field artillery officer, will compete in swimming, cycling, and wheelchair racing.
In 2007, Dudek sustained a spinal cord injury following the blast of an explosive-formed penetrating improvised explosive device. He spent two years as executive officer of the Warrior Transition Unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, sending other Soldiers to the Warrior Games, and wishing he could one day go himself.
After two years of physical therapy, Dudek recovered enough to go to the Warrior Games, where he medaled gold in swimming for two years.
Last year at the Warrior Games he competed in hand cycling. The Warrior Games are held every year in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the Army and each of the other U.S. services field teams. Last year the United Kingdom and fielded a team and at the starting line, Prince Harry shook hands with each athlete right before the race started.
Dudek was so focused on the race, that when Harry came by, said he thought to himself: "'I've got this race I'm about to do, so you're not as important to me as this race is.'" Dudek said he saw that same focused look in the eyes of the Marine next to him when the prince shook his hand.
Prince Harry, himself a combat veteran in Afghanistan, has said that his 2013 Warrior Games visit was the inspiration for championing the Invictus Games, which, besides the U.S. and U.K., includes Australia, Canada, Denmark, Afghanistan, New Zealand, Germany, Estonia, France, Georgia, Iraq, Italy and the Netherlands.
Dudek has an interesting perspective on disabilities.
"Everyone has a disability of some sort, be it alcoholism, depression, obesity or laziness. That's as much a disability as being in this wheelchair," he said, adding that "people are willing to help. If you reach out, you'll be amazed at what you find."
Dudek reaches out on social media with friendships he's made over the years attending Warrior Games, Army Ten-Milers, triathlons, Paralympics and Ride 2 Recovery, the latter being a national long-distance cycling program.
Other supporters, he said, include his wife and veterans from all services he's met from past wars. He's also become friends with U.K. competitors who fielded a team at last year's Warrior Games. He's kept in contact with them via Facebook, and says that some of them will be competing against him at the Invictus Games.
Besides making friends, Dudek said it's important to be active. Activities like adaptive fishing or hiking and even skiing are all available. And, there are organizations ready to assist the disabled get into those activities.
Dudek said he's appreciative of organizations that support veterans like the USO, Fisher House Foundation and Veterans Affairs. "They took care of me and my wife when I couldn't. I had no idea what these organizations did before I was injured. When I needed help, it was nice to know they were there."
Fisher House Foundation is the American sponsor of the Invictus Games. The organization has a network of comfort homes where families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. These are located at or near major military and VA medical centers nationwide. This year will be the fourth year Fisher House sponsored Warrior Games.
The USO sponsored the day's pep rally. They support service members worldwide in a variety of ways.
MIND OVER MATTER
Retired Spc. Shawn Cheshire, who served during the Gulf War era, will compete in tandem cycling.
Cheshire is 100 percent blind, but that didn't stop her from competing.
Army basic training, she said, taught her that "we're mostly limited by our minds, not our bodies. If you want to do something bad enough, physical limitations won't defeat you."
Besides going to the Invictus Games, Cheshire is on the U.S. Para-Cycling Team, and hopes to compete in the 2016 games in Rio.
Accompanying Cheshire to the Invictus Games is Davina Nhek, her personal trainer, who also helps her get around.
"It's hard to keep up with Shawn," Nhek said, explaining that she is able to show Cheshire how to do various exercises by letting her feel how her own body is correctly positioned during the various movements, which would otherwise be too hard to describe.
Cheshire's two daughters, 15 and 17, will also be going to London to cheer her on.
COMPETITOR ALSO A COACH
Retired Staff Sgt. Jessie White will compete in archery, shot put and discus.
His favorite sport is archery, he said. Bow hunting was his favorite pastime, growing up on a farm in northwest Arkansas.
Hard work on the farm, he said, prepared him for Army life. He enlisted in 1992, and became a heavy equipment repairman, something he said came naturally since he used to fix broken-down farm equipment.
In 2006, he was injured in Iraq. Like the other athletes, he said sports helped him to recover both physically and mentally.
After the Invictus Games, he will go to Warrior Games, scheduled for Sept. 28 through Oct. 4. He has already competed in four previous Warrior Games, but this time he will be there as the archery coach for team Army.
He's already been coaching archery at Fort Riley, Kansas, for many months now. The biggest difference between coaching and competing, he said, is that "when you compete, you only have to worry about yourself. But when you coach, you have to think about how to deal with the other athletes, each with different injuries and mental and physical challenges.
"As a coach you want to win every event," he added. "But, you also want these guys to enjoy themselves, get better at whatever they're trying to do and help them in the longer term in life rather than just at that one moment of winning the medal."
Sgt. 1st Class Keoki Smythe, who is the coach for the Army team at Invictus Games, agreed with White that "everyone wants to win, but success can also be measured by improving your quality and outlook on life by competing. The quality of life for many of these athletes is better than for many who have never been injured."
Retired Staff Sgt. Chanda Gaeth and Master Sgt. Rhoden Galloway are both competing in swimming, and both live and train in the San Antonio area.
After Gaeth sustained a spinal cord injury in 2003, she became depressed.
"I was lost before doing sports. I thought my life didn't have any meaning," she said.
Then she met Galloway, who encouraged her to learn to swim.
"She really took to the water and kept going and going and getting faster and faster and more and more excited about the sport," Galloway said.
While swimming is fun for both of them, Galloway said it's also hard work. They swim about two hours a day and do a lot of "dry land training" as well.
The activity burns a lot of calories, but the good thing about that is you get to eat a lot of food without worrying about getting fat, he said.
INVICTUS MEANS UNCONQUERED
Howe, who thought up the name Invictus for the games, exhorted the athletes at the pep rally.
"Your paths to this point have been many and varied, but all of them have entailed challenge and difficulty, setbacks and anguish, and probably some very dark nights of the soul. You have individually and collectively triumphed over sickness, injury and illness to stand so proudly as athletes here today," Howe said.
He read the poem "Invictus," written by William Earnest Henley in 1875:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
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