ARLINGTON, Va. – In early February, more than 90 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers and veterans were selected to compete in the first-of-its-kind virtual Army Trials.
The Army Trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, were canceled due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions and safety concerns. Instead, various methods are being used for the trials to take place March 1-15. Participants are competing to be on Team Army for the Department of Defense Warrior Games, which will be held Sept. 12-22 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida.
“While this year’s event is different than previous years, it will not be any less competitive,” said Col. Curtis Douglass, U.S. Army Medical Command, Deputy Chief of Staff, Army Recovery Care Program. “Our premier athletes have been training for months and are ready to shine.”
ARCP supports recovering Soldiers as they transition back to duty or to veteran status. Adaptive reconditioning programs are an important part of the Soldier recovery process. Located at Soldier Recovery Units across the country, they provide activities and sports that help Soldiers achieve long and short term goals, enhance their wellbeing and return to active lifestyles.
“Army Trials has been an important event to encourage our Soldiers to try new things, work hard towards a future goal and build comradery with their fellow athletes,” said Phillip Rackham, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Belvoir SRU, Virginia.
Army Trials athletes compete in archery, shooting, swimming, wheelchair basketball, golf, powerlifting, cycling, indoor rowing, sitting volleyball, track and field.
There are 14 SRUs across the country and they are integral to the success of virtual Army Trials. Some of this year’s sporting events will be conducted at SRUs individually or in groups while practicing COVID-19 precautionary measures.
“ARCP has done a great job at providing each unit with the information they need to pull this off,” Rackham said. “Staff and athletes at every unit have come together to problem solve and be creative to make this event happen.”
A total of 45 athletes will head to the Warrior Games this September. The Army team will also include at least 14 veterans in its ranks who meet the Warrior Games qualification requirements. ARCP will announce the Warrior Games team on April 19, 2021.
Heather Kreier, recreation therapist at the Joint Base Lewis McChord SRU, Washington, said that Army Trials is very different this year because of the pandemic. One example of this is that there is less spectator involvement. This may appear to be a negative; however, she found that “it has allowed the athletes to relax a bit more and rise to the occasion within the competition.”
Technology is being used to overcome pandemic-related challenges and it’s also providing opportunities that weren’t available before. Marc Cattapan, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Carson SRU, Colorado, said that athletes participating in sports such as indoor rowing and cycling are using apps to provide training data to their coaches. They’ve also been meeting and training virtually with their coaches.
While technology provided new opportunities in 2021, the pandemic took away others. Cattapan noted that Soldiers will miss out on experiences that can’t be had virtually, such as training and developing comradery with Soldiers from across the nation.
“The athletes will not have the same opportunities to engage in the social domain,” Cattapan said.
Army Trials won’t be the same, but it is going forward and it will be an unforgettable experience for the competing athletes. Kreier said that the Army Trials participants are working hard and are excited by the prospect of earning a spot on the team that will compete in the Warrior Games.
“With the Trials and Games separated by nearly six months, the athletes that move forward to the Games will have a significant amount of time to train, hone their skills and be well prepared to maximize the medal count at the Warrior Games later this year,” she said.
In addition to the sporting events, the 2021 Army Trials Opening and Closing ceremonies are being conducted via an online platform. During the Opening Ceremony, attendees heard from Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, the U.S. Army Surgeon General; Jon Stewart, comedian and military advocate; and former Warrior Games athlete, Tim Bomke, who shared his inspirational journey and the positive impact of adaptive sports on his life.
“This will be an Army Trials for the books and I look forward to see[ing] who makes the Warrior Games team,” Rackham said.