SAN DIEGO — Team Army made their way onto Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego for the DoD Warrior Games Challenge, held June 2–12, 2023.
All military operations deal with challenges. Forces in all past conflicts had nature’s unpredictable weather and unforgiving terrain to deal with, as well as logistical issues and other obstacles. Warfighters have to be prepared, steadfast and resilient to overcome things that are out of their control.
Soldiers at the aptly named Warrior Games Challenge are facing their obstacles head on. They are defeating the uncertainty tied to life-altering injuries, wounds and illnesses, and unpredictable circumstances that require changes in tactics. They are overcoming endless hurdles in the form of doctors’ appointments, surgeries and chemotherapy. They are fighting unseen enemies like PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and the stress of an unknown future.
The buildup for this competition takes detailed planning and the ability to be flexible when things don’t go as intended. U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Keefer dealt with a few obstacles on his journey to Naval Air Station North Island. He is in transition from the Army and found it difficult to train.
“I didn’t have my recumbent (bike) to train on,” explained Keefer. He went to the gym, but their equipment didn’t give him the medical comfort connected to his injuries that he needed. “It was challenging to prepare for this on the wrong equipment, and it was painful, it hurt, and I just suffered through it.” He set goals that he ended up surpassing and won his first gold medal in the cycling event.
Staying ready and prepared is something Team Army needs to remain focused. U.S. Army Spc. Davona Jones reflected on preparedness during the Warrior Games Challenge. “This is a big event and things are moving at a very fast pace,” said Jones. “I don’t have time to relax. Staying focused is key here. If you get discouraged, it’s going to throw you off.”
On June 6, Jones competed in the 100 and 200-meter races back-to-back. She won gold in both races. Support was a factor to her overcoming challenges. “If you have any challenges, there is so much support here to help you,” she explained. “The staff is amazing. The [physical therapists] are here for you. This is an event for people who are going through things. They know you’re not 100 percent, but they are going to get you as close to it as they can.”
According to physical therapist Jamie Velez, the task of keeping Soldier athletes on the playing field is multi-faceted. “We have Soldiers who have injuries they’re trying to prevent from worsening,” said Velez. “Soldiers are getting fatigued and frustrated and begin to deal with stress, anxiety and when those things start to flare up, the pain increases. We try to minimize injuries and psychological factors that play into it.
With Soldier-athletes competing for 12 days in a row, physical therapists also help make the safety call on who can or should compete based on the severity of the injuries. “Sleep, rest, mobility, stretching, calming and recovery activities are really big to emphasize,” Velez added. Nutrition and hydration are constant staples the PTs preach to the athletes to get the maximum performance out of their bodies.
Team captain U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stacy Englert knows exactly what it takes to overcome the challenges by relying on the experience of those who participated in Warrior Games in the past. “We emphasize the importance of sleep, getting the usefulness out of the [Ready and Resilient] coaches like mindfulness, breathing, positivity, getting in that right headspace,” said Englert. “Sleep and rest throughout the day is very vital.”
Soldiers, by virtue of their combat tasks, are athletes. It takes an athlete to grind it out in multiple events in a short span of time. Especially a Soldier-athlete in the process of recovering and overcoming an injury, wound, or illness.
First and foremost, Englert says they are Soldiers, a team with a common goal. “We don’t do this to get paid,” she added. “We do this to make sure we still have that dogfight in us to feel alive again. Sometimes when we get wounded, ill or injured, you think it’s over but it’s not.”
Team Army Soldiers, along with help from the staff and support system at Warrior Games Challenge 2023, are marching into the breach and changing the course of their lives.
“To be back on a team is awesome,” explained Englert. “When you get in this community, you’re not only on just Team Army, you’re on Team Warrior Games.”
NOTE: More than 200 wounded, ill, or injured warrior athletes represented the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations Command. Teams competed in adaptive sports including archery, track, field, swimming, rowing, shooting, powerlifting, cycling, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair rugby.
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