First lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Prince Harry spoke with service members and veterans during a virtual event honoring Warrior Games athletes on September 13. (Individual photos by Julia Oliveri, Travis Claytor and Christine Aurigema)
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – First lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Prince Harry spoke with service members and veterans during a virtual event honoring Warrior Games athletes on September 13. (Individual photos by Julia Oliveri, Travis Claytor and Christine Aurigema) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
U.S. Army Spc. Brent Garlic pulls on the row machine handle during rowing practice, May 28, 2018, for the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Warrior Games are an annual event, established in 2010, to introduce wounded, ill and injured service members to adaptive sports as a way to enhance their recovery and rehabilitation. (DoD photo by Mark Reis)
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Spc. Brent Garlic pulls on the row machine handle during rowing practice, May 28, 2018, for the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Warrior Games are an annual event, established in 2010, to introduce wounded, ill and injured service members to adaptive sports as a way to enhance their recovery and rehabilitation. (DoD photo by Mark Reis) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez, formerly assigned to Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Benning, Georgia, trains for the swimming event at Fort Bliss, Texas, Feb. 28, 2018. 74 wounded, ill, or injured active duty Soldiers and veterans participate in a series of events that are held at Fort Bliss, Texas, Feb. 27 through March 9, 2018 as the Deputy Chief of Staff, Warrior Care and Transition host the 2018 U.S. Army Trials (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Nathanael Mercado)
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez, formerly assigned to Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Benning, Georgia, trains for the swimming event at Fort Bliss, Texas, Feb. 28, 2018. 74 wounded, ill, or injured active duty Soldiers and veterans participate in a series of events that are held at Fort Bliss, Texas, Feb. 27 through March 9, 2018 as the Deputy Chief of Staff, Warrior Care and Transition host the 2018 U.S. Army Trials (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Nathanael Mercado) (Photo Credit: Spc. Nathanael Mercado) VIEW ORIGINAL

ARLINGTON, Va. — On Sept. 13, first lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Prince Harry spent some time honoring the incredible American athletes who trained to compete in the Department of the Defense Warrior Games, which were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ken Fisher, chairman and CEO of the Fisher House Foundation, moderated the virtual event, which was attended by Warrior Games athletes and their families.

“The Warrior Games and the Invictus Games have shown just how critical adaptive sports have been in the recovery of our athletes and their families,” he said. “They have played a vital role in empowering individual effort, rebuilding spirit and restoring self-esteem.”

Biden spoke first and said that she, like the attendees, wished they were at the Warrior Games. She also shared a memory from the Invictus Games of athletes from all different teams cheering a swimmer to the finish. She said that she’s seen this heart, fearlessness and perseverance time and again from this community and during visits to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“By being a part of the Warrior Games, you have not only overcome injuries, both visible and invisible, you show us all that our challenges never have to define us,” Biden said.

She also shared a message for the families and caregivers.

“Your service didn’t end when your loved one came home,” she said. “In many ways, it was just beginning. Every day, you continue to love, honor and care for our service members and veterans.”

Austin said that he was “immensely proud” of their service and that they prove they have more to give every day. He said he was “incredibly lucky and honored” to call them teammates and fellow veterans and concluded by guiding them toward their next mission.

“I want you to keep training,” he said. “I want you to set new goals for yourself and I want you to take care of your teammates and to look ahead to the next competition. And all of us absolutely cannot wait to cheer you on.”

Prince Harry said that he was sorry that they were not together at the Warrior Games.

“We all know how important the training is for these moments,” he said. “It’s not about the medals. It’s not even so much about the winning. As far as most of us are concerned, you guys have already won.”

He underscored the importance of sport in life and rehabilitation. He also thanked them for being an inspiration and for showing the way.

“You guys are leaders in every aspect of your lives both while serving and both within your community as well,” he said. “And this community is as strong as ever. And that also makes me incredibly proud.”

Two of the Warrior Games athletes spoke during the event. The first was Master Sgt. Brian Williams who was joined onscreen by his wife Emily. Williams competed in the 2015 and 2016 Warrior Games and the 2016 Invictus Games. He said that he wished they were all together and that it was humbling to spend time with them on the call. He echoed Austin’s call for training and said that they would need to adapt and “find our way back on that roster.”

“Instead of talk about adapting, we need to be about adapting,” he said.

Retired Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez competed in five National Veterans Wheelchair Games co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the 2018 Invictus Games, the 2019 Warrior Games and will compete in the 2022 Invictus Games.

“The amount of competition that was out there for this year’s Warrior Games would’ve been incredible and I’m excited that now we’re doing the Virtual Challenge that’s going on right now,” he said.

Rodriguez was joined by his wife, Liannie, who shared her experience as a family member seeing how hard they trained and how much they were looking forward to the Warrior Games.

“I know how much it hurt, but I am so proud of each and every one of you guys and so honored for all that you all do for us, so thank you very much,” she said.

She held their daughter, Leila, as she spoke. Their son, Elijah, joined them toward the end of the event and greeted the attendees, which caused big smiles and a bit of laughter. The entire family was smartly dressed in matching Army black and yellow.

After the event, Rodriguez said that the experience was a bit overwhelming.

“I was definitely flooded with emotions,” he said.

Rodriguez explained that competing is a major part of his life and that he was honored.

“It was an incredible experience,” he said.

Retired Spc. Brent Garlic competed in the 2018 and 2019 Warrior Games and the Military Adaptive Sports Virtual Challenge. He attended the event honoring the Warrior Games athletes and said it was an amazing experience. It was the first time he had seen Austin. He said it was great that Austin and Biden shared their time. It was something he wasn’t expecting.

Sept. 13 also marked the beginning of the Military Adaptive Sports Virtual Challenge, which was not a Warrior Games sanctioned event. Competing athletes represented the United States Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Special Operations Command, Coast Guard and ally nation Ukraine. It featured 11 sport events and concluded on the Sept. 17.

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.