Cpl. Mary Velis trains and competes in the 2021 Army Trials. (Photo via Cpl. Mary Velis)
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Cpl. Mary Velis trains and competes in the 2021 Army Trials. (Photo via Cpl. Mary Velis)
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Cpl. Mary Velis trains and competes in the 2021 Army Trials. (Photo via Cpl. Mary Velis)
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Cpl. Mary Velis trains and competes in the 2021 Army Trials. (Photo via Cpl. Mary Velis)
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ARLINGTON, Va. — Cpl. Mary Velis was all psyched to head to the 2020 Army Trials after months of training when she got the unfortunate news the day before she was set to head to Fort Bliss, Texas: the Trials had been cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We had packed the whole trailer," Velis said. "We had packed all of our equipment only to be told, 'hey, it got cancelled.'"

She was not about to let the coronavirus take away her opportunity a second time.

Velis, who is from the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) in Washington state, was one of 78 athletes who competed in the 2021 Army Trials in March. They were competing for a spot on Team Army, and those who are selected will travel to Florida in September to participate in the Defense Department's annual Warrior Games.

Velis has been through a lot physically. She recently had a third surgery on her right ankle after suffering an injury to her lower extremities, forcing her to significantly strengthen her upper body. Training for the Trials was a critical part of the recovery process, she said.

"It was a nice escape from being in the house all day," she said. "It was also very challenging for me because I hadn't done the exercises because I was in recovery.”

She spent plenty of time training for Army Trials last year before the pandemic cancelled the event. This year was a bit more of a mental hurdle because she hadn’t had as much time to prepare for the competition.

"It was mind-boggling to see how different my body was strength-wise," Velis said.

But she didn't let that stop her. Determined to participate in the 2021 Trials after missing the opportunity last year, she threw herself into rowing, shot put, discus, sitting volleyball and archery.

Regardless of whether she makes the Warrior Games team, Velis said she’s glad she competed, and she's looking forward to continuing her recovery process. As of March, she expects to stick around the SRU for another three months before being discharged.

But until then, events like Army Trials keep her motivated. The experience of competing this year was like none other, she said.

"What fires me up the most is being part of a team," she said. "Being in an SRU, you are kind of to yourself doing your own recovery, and you lose some of that camaraderie when you get pulled from your own unit to recover. So just being part of the team and being physically challenged and seeing the results, I think that's the biggest thing."

Participating in the event has helped her "tremendously" with her recovery, she said.