Warrior Games: The adaptive sports trilogy
By Leanne Thomas, Tripler Army Medical Center

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - At the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games, wounded warriors are noticed for their athletic achievements, but there is more to what meets the eye.

"In sports, we see it visually, on the outside as a physical event, but it's just as much a mental and spiritual event for them," said Team Army Track Coach Gil Wheeler.

As Soldiers become wounded, ill, or injured, and they are reassigned to a Warrior Transition Unit, and overcoming a medical condition becomes the new mission.

"The reason why these athletes are here is because they had an experience in their life that altered their physicality, their physical presence, or even maybe their emotional presence," explained Wheeler.

As every Soldier is trained to focus on the most important tasks at-hand, this time mission accomplishment means being open-minded to new possibilities while finding the inner-strength to persevere and overcome.

"A lot on of us had to learn how to be physically active all over again and learn what activities and style of workouts we could do. This, within itself, is a difficult process if we allow it to be," said Sgt. 1st Class Julio Rodriguez, an intelligence analyst stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia. "I know I struggled with it because I did not have the drive I once had before my medical condition. Overtime, the healing process became more and more effective. I started to enjoy lifting weight again, but it took months because I just did not believe I could," he added.

As wounded warriors navigate through the Army's Warrior Care and Transition program, experiences gained through adaptive sports are applied to their daily lives. This, in turn, helps them build confidence and become more resilient which optimizes their performance.

"If you look at all of the athletes here competing, we all had to become more resilient, positive, motivating, and strong-willed in order to push ourselves every day. We had to adapt to become stronger mentally," said Rodriguez. "Warrior Games and adaptive sport brought faith and trust back in my life. Meeting and learning from some many other athletes that have conquered and overcame their difficulties gave me the courage to believe and have faith in myself to become better, to love my self-more, to have faith and trust in those around me."

As each athlete comes from different experiences and different events, as a coach, Wheeler says, "what we're trying to do is help them understand the trilogy there: the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of sports. And they have to manage that whole experience within themselves."

As the cliché goes, 'sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.'

"God is a good God, but he is a funny one as well," Rodrigues explained. "Right at the point that he knows you are about to break, he provides the light and the strength to keep moving forward in life."