Army Love from Coast to Coast
By Annette P. Gomes, Army Warrior Care Transition

TAMPA, Fla. -- From the West coast to Southeast, a few familiar faces and former athletes showed their support for Team Army as the 2019 Warrior Games continued in Tampa, Florida. The event highlights adapted reconditioning sports, a competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans.

"There's no place I'd rather be than here," said U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale who traveled from Hawaii. "I know what the games did for me; in particular swimming. It feels good to give these athletes the support they need."

Nahale was the one needing support after a 2013 cancer diagnosis. "When I was going through my cancer treatment, the water became my happy place, for another athlete it may be archery, cycling or shooting," she added. "I needed a recharge in my life."

Additional competition events include; sitting volleyball, swimming, track, field, wheelchair basketball, indoor rowing, powerlifting, and for the first time in Warrior Games history, golf, wheelchair tennis, and wheelchair rugby.

For retired Staff Sgt. Mike Shaw, it's the power of adaptive sports that made all the difference in his life.

"I was a hot mess before arriving at Fort Benning's Warrior Transition Unit. I had so many physical ailments ranging from heart disease to spinal cord issues and they affected me emotionally. What the games mean is really watching people recharge their emotional batteries," said Shaw.

"A disability does not mean inability - we may do it just a little bit differently, that's why it's called adaptive sports and for the record, we can still do it and I love watching Team Army show their strength and pride," he explained.

U.S. Army retired Spc. Lauren Britt now calls Texas home but the sunshine state is where her roots began. Diagnosed with bone cancer in 2016, she was told she would never run again. She began participating in adaptive reconditioning sports which opened up a whole new world. Britt says an 18-hour trip to the 2019 Warrior Games was needed to spread her love and support.

"Doctors set limitations on me and I wanted to prove them wrong. Seeing my fellow athletes in person as they compete shows you can do anything you put your mind to. I can pick up the phone and call them but there's nothing like seeing them in person. We're still a team even though were not together," Britt said.

U.S. Army retired Capt. Kenny Rodgers echoed the same feeling as he reflected on his trip from Kentucky to Florida. Rodgers was injured while on a mission as a Company Commander in support of the Conus Replacement Center. During the mission, Rodgers conducted numerous physical fitness events with Soldiers. One of those events was a run with the 1st Armored Division in June of 2015. Half way through the run, Rodgers's left knee gave out. He had six surgeries and both knees have undergone autologous chondrocyte implantation, to treat cartilage defects. His knee issues began to reshape his future prior to being assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

While recovering at the WTB, Rodgers discovered adaptive reconditioning and became heavily involved. His hard work earned him a spot on Team Army at the 2018 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"Adaptive reconditioning changed my life but hands down this is about family and camaraderie and that's what brought me to Florida this week. The family that we created through the years is awesome. It's not about winning and medals but the love we have as a family, there's nothing like it," Rodgers said.

After three deployments over six years, U.S. Army retired Staff Sgt. Shawn Runnells found himself managing injuries to his knee and shoulder. The Armor Crewman was assigned to the WTB at Fort Riley, Kansas to recover and get himself healthy again. His health prescription came in the form of adaptive reconditioning. He says His trip from Kansas to Florida to support Team Army was a no brainer.

The WTB adaptive reconditioning program helped me figure out that I am able to do things I didn't know I could with my injuries," said Runnells. His determination also earned him a top spot on Team Army at the 2018 games in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was a member of Team Army's wheelchair basketball squad as they claimed their three-peat victory during the 2018 games.

Runnells stated, "It's a sense of accomplishment you can't explain. We've come far and wide but there's nothing like Team Army pride baby, Hooah!"