Sgt. Jared Babinski competes in the 50-meter backstroke swimming event. (Photo via Robyn Womac)
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Cpl. Chance Boleware competes in the adaptive powerlifting event. (Photo via Robyn Womac)
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ARLINGTON, Va. — The 2021 Army Trials was a short burst of activity: just two weeks jam-packed with sports for some of the hardest-working athletes in the United States Army. But what often goes unseen is the extensive preparations and training that go into the event, which began the year before for Soldiers at the Fort Campbell Soldier Recovery Unit in Kentucky.

Virtual coaching started all the way back in April 2020, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic cancelled last year’s Army Trials, said Becky Richardson, a recreation therapist at the unit. She noted that training really started ramping up in October, a full five months before the event.

Soldiers at the SRU cycled when the weather allowed them, and moved the activities indoors when they encountered snow. Once the weather turned nice again, a group would head out for a ride in the rolling hills behind the base — socially distanced for safety, of course.

The training was necessary to prepare Soldiers both mentally and physically for the Trials, which are a difficult first step to DoD Warrior Games later in the year.

The base gained access to an equipment and training room on base so they could work on cycling, air rifle/air pistol, and other Army Trials events.

"We had an equipment room that we were able to acquire in October," Richardson said. "We put the bikes and trainers in there to do indoor activities, and then we would train in different exercises, so even though the temperature wasn't good, the coaches would send training regimens and we would try to mimic that."

The SRU had to use an outside facility to host archery practice, but for the most part they were able to make all the conversions they needed to the equipment room so it could handle their training needs.

"It's kind of like our multi-purpose area," Richardson said.

While the facility is situated on the base, it doesn't belong to the SRU, and Richardson hopes they may get their own dedicated space at some point for future training.

It was good that the SRU was able to find something to accommodate the Soldiers, because the Trials have become a big driver for recovering individuals to keep pushing forward, she said.

"I feel that the games help give a lot of these service members a bigger purpose that they may not realize," she said.

The Trials help Soldiers with their mental recovery as well as their physical recovery, she said.

"You never know who's going through what and what's going to impact someone in a positive way," she said. "One of the hardest parts about COVID has been the lack of interaction and group gatherings, so I don't know as many of the Soldiers' stories. That's one beautiful thing about adaptive reconditioning: a lot of them will open up about their stories."

Ultimately, these experiences will carry over to their post-military careers, so Richardson wants to make sure those experiences are as positive as possible.