By Jyremy Reid
FORT BELVOIR, Va. — If there’s one thing that everyone who attended the Invictus Training Camp at Fort Belvoir, Virginia learned, it’s that Team U.S. is a force to be reckoned with. On the final day of training, the Soldiers participated in a few scrimmages for wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and sitting volleyball.
Spectators of various occupancies gathered at Wells Field House to view the athletes as they practiced with the same intensity they would use during the Invictus Games 2020 in The Hague, The Netherlands. After five days of preparation, many notable figures in the crowd gained the impression that this year’s team was special.
Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Runnels felt very confident about how the training camp turned out and his teammates’ performances. Runnels participated in all three scrimmages and afterward, he still had enough energy for another round.
“I felt pretty accomplished with the teams,” he said. “Our communication was really good and it’s come a long way in the last for days…especially compared to the first day. It took a while to get to this point, but once we [finally] nailed it, it’s there to stay.”
Col. Myron McDaniels, deputy chief of staff for the Army Recovery Care Program, said that watching the athletes train and getting a sense of their drive and dedication touched him.
“I think they’re going to do well from what I've seen so far,” he commented. “Just by talking with them, I could tell that they are super excited - not only about representing the United States - but to compete and get acquainted with individuals from other countries as well. I think that’s great and I’m really happy for them.”
McDaniels further expressed how inspired he felt to see the Soldiers overcome any setbacks presented in their way. Whether an athlete didn’t have a good day of practice or experienced physical complications, they always found a way to fight through the discomfort. Their unwavering mindset to perform at a high level never lost sight, and that impressed McDaniels the most.
“They want to do better and they want to do well,” he added.
Col. Kathy Spangler, director (CEO) of Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, loved how Invictus Training Camp turned out. She found a lot of joy in watching the Soldiers practice every day with the same level of tenacity.
“I look at these athletes in a superior way,” she mentioned. “They are not just amazing athletes, but they are also awesome human beings. They’re having a great time and they have this warrior spirit within them…I’ve been [working] here since 9/11, and to see our work coming to fruition is something I’ve very proud of.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Dedraf Blash, the senior enlisted advisor at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, joined the scrimmage fun as a casual viewer and gave high praise about what she witnessed at the event.
“It’s so remarkable that despite their circumstances, they are still in the game,” she said. “They’re out there displaying teamwork and dedication to their various crafts.”
Blash also gave a few words of encouragement to the Soldiers.
“I would say,” she began, “don’t let whatever circumstance you are in be your limitation. Keep going, keep inspiring others…there may be others in the exact same situation. One step, one move forward is all it takes to get the process started. You never know who is watching.”
Amanda Miller, adaptive reconditioning division chief for U.S. ARCP, appreciated the outcome of the training camp. She and her team are responsible for managing the care and recovery of Soldiers. This is crucial in helping them return to duty.
For three years since 2019, they’ve beaten the odds with virtual training sessions and more to get these athletes in top competitive shape. Although a seemingly impossible task, Miller and her crew accepted the challenge and succeeded.
“It’s really been exceptional watching these athletes in their journey,” she mentioned. “This team was actually selected in 2019 for the 2020 Invictus Games, so they’ve been training hard for three years. A lot of [the Soldiers] started performing at Army Trials and many had never been an athlete before their injuries. At the Invictus level, this is just the best of the best…they’re out here, they’re ready to go and they’re looking great.”
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. Visit our website at https://arcp.army.mil