By Elizabeth M. Collins (Defense Media Activity)November 30, 2010
DURING the Warrior Games' cycling competition, a sport focused on individual achievement, servicemembers proved that they care more about teamwork and the Warrior Ethos than winning-even off the battlefield.
During the competition-held at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., in a May snow shower-wounded, ill and injured servicemembers battled their way through high altitudes, freezing temperatures and slippery roads, persevering even in the midst of extreme pain.
Suffering from two torn rotator cuffs, Sgt. Monica Southall had never used a handcycle before arriving at the Warrior Games, but she didn't let that keep her from the race. At one point, the pain became too much to bear and she wanted to stop, but as she said, "Soldiers don't quit and I wasn't going to quit."
Help, in the form of Warrant Officer Johnathan Holsey (who was also the first amputee to attend Warrant Officer School) and Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Will Wilson, arrived just when she needed it most. Both men are leg amputees and Wilson was talking Holsey through their upright cycling race when they passed Southall about two miles from the finish line. They noticed her struggling but refusing to quit. Any thoughts of winning their own competition instantly disappeared.
"When we came by her, she was having a hard time going around and the Navy master chief (and I), we were coming through," said Holsey, who hadn't trained for the event either, after the race. "He kind of helped me on. He was saying, 'Stay with me. Stay with me.' And when we saw Monica, we were like, 'You know what' We're going to take her in.' We said we weren't going to leave her and we stayed with her the whole time because we're all here together.
"You never leave your comrade behind. Never. When we saw her coming up by herself we said we were going to stay with her and we pushed her along. She had the wheel. We just had to be there with her. We just came through together. It's never about the race, it's about the camaraderie and being there for each other," he continued.
Although the three were competing in individual events, and were in different services, they were really one team, Holsey said, bound by not only their military service, but by their experiences as wounded and injured servicemembers. They share something no one else will ever understand.
Southall inspired and helped Holsey as well. Seeing her perseverance pushed all thoughts of pain, cold and falling off his bike to the side. That's the best thing about the Warrior Games, he explained: the inspiration, strength and power wounded warriors can get from being around each other.
"I think we all inspire each other because we all have different obstacles that we're having to overcome," he explained. Someone else's obstacle might not be yours, but you can give them strength. People...say, 'Well, how do you overcome something'' And I always tell people that it's not about how you as an individual overcome, it's about how people around you help you overcome stuff.... You didn't really know how you were going to deal with it, but just that power from someone else empowers you to move forward."
In the end, Holsey and Wilson tied for last place in their category and Southall finished last in hers, but that didn't matter. They crossed the finish line together, as a team, to a crowd that not only cheered just as loudly for them as for the gold-medal winners, but dabbed at their eyes as well.
"It was great (to finish), seeing everybody standing there waiting for me and cheering me on," said Southall with tears rolling down her face. "You just can't describe a moment like that. It was very inspiring. They could have left me a while back. There was like two miles left in the race. They pushed me and they kept me going and I'm very grateful for that."