FORT BELVOIR, Va. — The many athletes who are part of Team U.S. at the Invictus Games in the Netherlands come from different service branches, and they’ve competed against each other before. But now they’re ready to put on the same uniform, said Shawn Runnels, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant.
Runnels — a member of Team Army at the 2018 Department of Defense Warrior Games in the sports of cycling, track and wheelchair basketball — said it’s an altogether different experience preparing for the Invictus Games.
“Mentally, it’s crazy,” he said. “Usually, we’re just participating for the Army against the other branches. We all get into each other and talk different stuff to each other. But being all on one team, it’s better. We get the best of all worlds together. And at the end of the day, we’re just one team, one fight together. “
While there were a lot of new faces at Fort Belvoir where the athletes met to train before heading off to the Netherlands, Runnels didn’t find it difficult at all to get chemistry with his teammates. The hardest part was just learning everyone’s names.
“All of the branches are used to change,” he said. “We’re just used to falling into whoever’s place, and when it comes to all of us coming together, it’s natural for us. Change is what you do.”
Runnels is excited about the prospect of going to the Netherlands, where he’s never been. He’s also interested to see how the other countries’ teams approach competition — will they go by the book, or be a bit more unpredictable in their competition style like Team US plans to be?
“It’ll be interesting to see,” he said.
Invictus Games is a big moment for Runnels, who grew up as an athletic individual and had to learn to adapt with his injury. He’s most proud of how he’s been able to recover and overcome from the setback, and now represent Team US on a world stage.
“I would have to say my biggest accomplishment is overcoming my challenge of having to be somebody new, somebody different,” he said. “I was a huge sports guy before this and this really opened my eyes to the fact that I can be part of the sports world, just in a different aspect. I am absolutely honored to be part of this team.”