By Steve ElliottFebruary 4, 2010
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The scene inside the Jimmy Brought Gym on Fort Sam Houston Jan. 26 could have been from any of the various tournaments held there except for one detail - all the participants were sitting on the wooden floor.
But that didn't mean the players were taking it easy. On the contrary, these athletes were sweating and exerting themselves as hard as they could.
This was the 2nd Annual Sitting Volleyball Tournament, presented by the Brooke Army Medical Center Warrior Transition Battalion, and the action was fast and furious.
Sitting volleyball originated in the Netherlands in 1956. After entering as a "demonstration" sport during the 1976 Paralympics Games in Toronto, Canada, sitting volleyball was first included in competition at the 1980 Paralympics Games in Arnhem, Netherlands. It has been in every Paralympics Games since.
As in regular volleyball, a high level of teamwork, skill, strategy and intensity is needed. Each team's goal is to pass the ball over the net and to touch the ball on the ground of the opposing team's side. In this tournament, most of the players didn't have a disability, but the rules stated that each team must have one wounded warrior participating.
"This tournament gives these wounded warriors some entertainment and time away from their healing," said Master Sgt. Antwan Nicholson, operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the Center for the Intrepid's Warrior Transition Unit. "We had 21 teams participating this year, which is up from last year."
Sitting volleyball can be played by anyone, and by eliminating jumping, which can be adversely affected by disability or age, sitting volleyball puts all players on a level playing field and brings disabled and able-bodied individuals together to play an competitive sport without limiting anyone's abilities, according to the International Paralympics Committee Web site at http://www.paralympic.org.
"It's great motivation," said Pvt. Ricardo Samudio, with Company A at the WTU. Samudio lost his right leg below the knee in Baghdad, Iraq in December 2008 when a grenade hit the vehicle he was traveling in. "Everyone here is on the same level, the same playing field.
"I've been at the WTU for 14 months and got my prosthetic leg at the Center for the Intrepid," the Soldier said as he strapped his leg on after the game. "I also got another one especially made for running."
As well as fostering camaraderie and fellowship, there were scouts from the USA Volleyball's Paralympics team checking out the talent level of the wounded warriors.
"I've seen some really good athletes out here," said Rik Mullane, head coach of the men's sitting volleyball team for the USA Paralympics Program. "The program for the USA team is very competitive. If we bring an Army athlete in, we send them up to the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Okla., where the national team trains. The military has been very cooperative with us in allowing the athletes to take part in the training camps."
In order to be a member of the U.S. National Sitting Volleyball Team or to qualify for sitting volleyball in the Paralympics, athletes must have a physical disability that limits their ability to play the game, according to the Sitting Volleyball Web site at http://www.Sittingvolleyball.org. This typically includes athletes who are affected by amputation (of the arm or leg), major knee tears, polio, knee or hip replacements, or any major muscle loss.
One athlete who caught the coach's eye was Spc. Joshua Holm from Kent, Ohio. Holm was in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Mosul, Iraq, in 2008 when an improvised explosive device exploded under the tank he was in, and he lost his left leg below the knee.
"This sure is a nice break in the monotony of medical treatment," Holm said after a hard-fought 21-20 win. "The camaraderie is outstanding and it shows we can still function and have fun, even with an injury."
Holm said he got his prosthetic leg four months ago and it took him two months just to get used to walking and learning how to adapt to other activities. The Soldier said he was able to pick it up quickly as evidenced by his adapting to another sport.
"I just got back from snowboarding at Sun Valley, Idaho," Holm said. "It's definitely different doing that on one leg."
Sitting volleyball is currently played in more than 60 countries worldwide in a two-stage league system, where non-disabled athletes can also participate. The rules of sitting volleyball differ only slightly from standing volleyball, according to the World Organization for Volleyball for the Disabled, but there are a few important distinctions.
Beyond the need to keep their buttocks on the court while performing any type of attacking shot, front row players are also allowed to block service shots from their opponents. For sanctioned tournaments, teams consist of six players and up to six substitutes, and each player must fulfill a minimum disability requirement.
U.S. Paralympics is working in collaboration with leadership from the United States Army Warrior Transition Units to develop adaptive sports and fitness programs for injured personnel serving in these units, according to the U.S. Paralympics Web site at http://www.usparalympics.org.
"Playing sports is a good part of their treatment," Nicholson said of the male and female amputees and burn unit patients in the tournament. "And these folks are good. They have the advantage in this format, and there's nothing as much fun as telling them they're dominant in a sport."