by Andrea Sutherland
When Gavin Sibayan won bronze in the 50-meter backstroke at the 2011 Warrior Games, Col. Jimmie Keenan placed the medal around his neck, saluted, then hugged her former Soldier, holding him close for a few moments while the crowd applauded.
“That was what I was waiting for all day,” said Keenan, commander of Evans Army Community Hospital. “I’m just bursting with pride. Gavin is an amazing athlete. We’re very proud of him.”
Sibayan qualified for three swimming events, including the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle, in which he placed seventh and fifth, respectively.
“I’m not the guy to beat this year,” Sibayan said.
“Last year I was.”
Sibayan took gold in four swimming events at last year’s Warrior Games, but this year he hadn’t been able to train for his swimming events as he had before.
“I’ve been focusing on soccer,” he said.
Sibayan is trying to earn a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team in soccer.
The Westminster native joined the Army at 25, and was stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., with the 543rd Military Police Company, 91st MP Battalion.
During a tour in Iraq, Sibayan experienced multiple encounters with improvised explosive devices, which resulted in two dislocated hips and other injuries.
“I was blown up three times,” he said. “The guys in my unit called me Superman because I wouldn’t quit every time I was blown up. My guys made me a dog tag with Clark Kent’s name on it.”
Sibayan honored the nickname by having the Superman emblem tattooed across his chest.
While recovering from his injuries, Sibayan was sent to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Carson in order to be closer to his family.
Last year, leaders in the WTB approached him to apply for the Warrior Games. Sibayan applied and made the Army swim team.
“This is an opportunity for everybody to get together as a team and get psyched,” said Sibayan, who swam for his high school’s swim team and qualified for the Colorado state finals.
“It’s good rehab. I do this for my family,” he said. “My son came to the final event last year. After I won my first gold medal I was tearing up. I put my medal around my son’s neck and he threw it back at me. He was just 3 years old. Now he says, ‘I want to swim like daddy.'”
Sibayan’s son, Gavin Jr., was there to support his dad along with his younger brother, mother and grandparents.
“We came to go watch daddy,” said Gavin Jr. “I want to swim, too. I’m in swimming lessons.”
Gavin Jr. said he’s proud of his father, but that he wanted to swim at the Warrior Games, too.
“It means a lot that my son wants to be like me,” Sibayan said. “No matter if you win or lose, you’re still doing it.”