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Warrior Games closing marks new beginning

Air Force team member Matt Sanders (right) hugs teammate Adam Tanverdi after he completed his track event during the Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy track in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 14, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)

Air Force team member Matt Sanders (right) hugs teammate Adam Tanverdi after he completed his track event during the Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy track in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 14, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)

by Army Sgt. 1st Class

Michael J. Carden

American Forces Press Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) — The 2010 Warrior Games may have ended May 14, but for the wounded warriors who competed here this week, their work is just beginning, officials hope.

“You’ve just completed a rigorous test of your physical and mental skills, your strength and endurance,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the athletes in a video message aired during the closing ceremony. “But now is no time to rest. I’d like you to take what you’ve done here, what you’ve learned here and continue to serve as role models for others striving to find the independence they need.”

The competition formally ended in the evening at the Air Force Academy in a ceremony honoring the nearly 200 wounded warriors and disabled veterans who represented their services in the inaugural Warrior Games.

The troops competed in a week-long series of Paralympic-type events at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and at the Academy. They were challenged as individuals and in teams in shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling, wheelchair basketball and track and field events.

Each athlete was selected by his or her service to compete because of the progress he or she made using adaptive sports as a method of rehabilitation. Their willingness to participate in the games and ability to overcome adversity can inspire others to do the same, Admiral Mullen said.

“You’ve demonstrated how physical fitness can help heal the mind, body and soul,” the admiral added. “That’s a message worth sharing, and yours is a story worth telling.”

Admiral Mullen lauded the troops for their accomplishments, but reminded them that other wounded warriors need their help.

That means helping wounded troops understand how to properly heal themselves and find closure in their injuries, Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, told the troops. General Renuart, who has led the commands for three years from their headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., is retiring from the position next week.

Overcoming adversity is more than simply healing physical wounds, General Renuart told them. It involves accepting new challenges and taking risks, pushing the limits of your disabilities.

“Healing is an interesting situation that a person goes through,” he said. “Certainly, healing is about recovering from an injury or recovering from an illness, but healing is also about finding how much you can push yourself.

“There was a lot of healing going on this week, and a little bit of fun, too,” he added.

General Renuart recalled some of the action he watched during the week. The competitions were hard fought and filled with all the spirit and aggressiveness officials had hoped for in the games, he said.

Troops taunted each other throughout the week, trading insults and trash talk about whose service is better and how bad the other team was going to get beat. However, sportsmanship was never a concern. The games were all in good fun.

“Certainly, there were teams out there fighting for their colors, but I notice in every circumstance, when the competition ended, there were arms around each other,” General Renuart said. “It was about how we competed as a team.”

General Renuart presented the Chairman’s Cup to the Marine Corps team on behalf of Admiral Mullen. The honor is bestowed on the team with the most points at the end of the week based on medal count.

The Air Force team won bronze in sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball and had the second most points overall.

Retired Marine Lance Cpl. Chuck Sketch accepted the award for his team. The Marines elected him as their captain before the competition.

Corporal Sketch lost his sight in August 1997 from a brain tumor, and then had to be amputated from the waist down in January 1998 due to complications from the same tumor.

He competed in swimming events during the competition, and had the time of his life, he said.

“Winning the Chairman’s Cup is great,” Corporal Sketch said. “I cannot wait until next year.”

However, Corporal Sketch admitted that there is one thing he hopes will be different by next year’s games.

“More wounded warriors should take part,” he explained.

“I wish all of the wounded warriors were here,” Corporal Sketch said. “They missed out on the best time, and I wish they were here to experience this. As more and more people find out about it, hopefully there will be far more people next year.”

The games’ top individual honor, the Ultimate Champion award, went to Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Hathorn, a naval special warfare boat operator who was hit by a truck driven by a local national during an overseas deployment last year. He nudged out Army Pfc. Robert Nuss by a single point.

Petty Officer Hathorn won gold in the 50-meter freestyle and the 1,500-meter track. He also won a bronze as part of the Navy’s 200-meter relay swim. It was an experience he said he won’t soon forget.

“This is incredible,” he said of his award. “There are so many great athletes in this room who’ve performed on a number of different levels, and to be holding this is an honor.”

Petty Officer Hathorn reflected on the past year since his injury. It’s almost unbelievable, he said, to be performing in such a way after suffering several broken bones on the left side of his body. He also had two collapsed lungs. He doesn’t have the use of his left arm and hand, either, he said.

Adaptive sports deserve all the credit for his recovery, he added.

“Rehab was very tough,” he explained. “I have to say, though, that the Warrior Games is the culmination of my recovery. Coming this far is phenomenal. To have these medals and to compete with the Navy and for Naval Special Warfare is awesome.”

Army Sgt. Cayle Foidel, a forward observer who permanently injured his leg in a training accident in January, shares Corporal Sketch and Petty Officer Hathorn’s enthusiasm. He won three gold medals, all in swimming. When he returns to Fort Lewis , Wash. , next week, he’s going to do just what Admiral Mullen asked, share his positive experiences with other wounded warriors, he said.

“After these games, I’m going back to (Fort) Lewis and try to get other people to do this,” Sergeant Foidel said. “I’m going to go there with my three gold medals, and say, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.”

The games are a joint venture of the Defense Department, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the USO to promote resilience and the healing power of sports. The closing ceremony featured country music recording artists John Rich and Cowboy Troy.

Officials hope to make the games an annual event and possibly expand participation and future venues.

For more stories, photos, and videos on the Air Force team, go to http://www.af.mil.

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