by Stacie Shain
Warrior Transition Battalion Public Affairs Officer
Although the Army did not bring home the Chairman’s Cup in the inaugural Warrior Games last week at the Olympic Training Center, Fort Carson Soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion did their part by delivering about one-sixth of the Army’s medals.
The Mountain Post’s Soldiers earned 12 of the Army’s 68 medals, capturing five golds, four silvers and three bronzes in events ranging from sitting volleyball to wheelchair basketball, from swimming to shotput, and from track to air rifle.
“I’m just happy to have my family name associated with something like this,” said Spc. Jerry Coffey, whose wheelchair-basketball team earned the silver medal. “I had a lot of fun, and I haven’t gotten to be competitive in a long time. This competition shows me that I’m getting back to where I need to be.”
And that is just what Warrior Games organizers had hoped.
“I saw the fighting spirit of the U.S. military in full force this week at the Warrior Games,” said Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek, commander of the Warrior Transition Command. “The athletes celebrated their abilities over their disabilities, embraced their talents and achieved greatness.”
Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics, U.S. Olympic Committee said, “These past five days have had an incredible impact on the athletes and ignited a spark in them all. But,
what’s more important, is that they’re living active lives in their communities the other 360 days of the year with access to sport and recreation opportunities year round.”
For many athletes, it was a chance to regain past glories, before their injuries and illnesses left them sidelined. For others, it was a chance to overcome lifelong fears and learn new skills. And for a few, it was a chance to try a new sport and test their mettle.
The latter was the case for Spc. Mathurin Agnew. He knew he was selected for the air rifle competition but was added to a sitting-volleyball team when the games began. Although he had never played the game before, Agnew practiced with his team – Army 3 – and enjoyed learning the sport. They brought home a silver medal.
“It was pretty cool, but it was also tiring,” he said. “I am so sore, and my knuckles are bruised and bleeding. But it was exhilarating to be part of this.”
Agnew’s team lost 2-1 in the gold medal match against the Marines.
For Sgt. 1st Class Justin Widhalm, Company A, WTB, the standing air rifle competition was a “bonus round.” He was entered in sitting volleyball, cycling and the prone air rifle competitions but was called about a week before the games began and asked if he would mind also competing in standing air rifle. Widhalm practiced only one time before the competition.
“I’d been preparing for the prone air rifle for nine months, but I didn’t qualify in the finals because I was still mad about the cycling competition,” Widhalm said. “Mentally, I was carrying around my bad-luck rock.”
Still, Widhalm qualified for the standing air rifle finals and thought he might have a good chance to medal. That feeling lasted until his first shot, on which he earned a 3.9 score that landed him solidly in last place.
“It was horrible,” the former sniper said. “I had first-shot jitters.”
But Widhalm fought back, shot by shot, earning his way back to fourth place with one shot left.
“I just remembered what Bob Foth, the USA Shooting Paralympics coach, told me. He said, ‘The last shot is the most important shot.’ And I thought that it was now or never for me,” Widhalm said.
When the call was given for the last shot, Widhalm picked up his rifle and noticed that his breathing was not regulated, causing his firearm to shake. So, he sat down the air rifle, took a deep breath, picked the gun back up and saw it was right on target.
“As soon as I picked it up, it was right on the target and it stayed there,” he said. “I squeezed the trigger, told myself to follow through and knew I had a great shot.”Greatshot, indeed. Widhalm scored a 10.5 to catapult himself into second place and earn a silver medal.Spc. Marie Princler, WTB, ran track for four years in high school. She was happy to be selected to run the 100-meter race at the Warrior Games, even though she’d never run a 100-meter race before.
“I always ran the 200-, 400-, 800- and 1600-meter races,” Princler said. “I also ran cross country.”
But Princler wanted the Games to be more than a chance to regain glory on the track; she also wanted to overcome her deepest fear: water. She entered the swimming competition to force herself to learn to swim and face her fear.
When she was only 7 years old, Princler was visiting her grandparents in Maryland when the family car was swept off a bridge near Frederick, Md., by floodwaters. Princler was knocked unconscious, the family had to be rescued from the vehicle, and Princler woke up in the hospital.
“The bridge was already flooding, and they said that if you wanted to cross, you should do so with caution,” Princler said. “My grandmother was driving, and when she got to the middle, there was just too much water, and we were pushed off the bridge.”
No one was seriously injured but Princler carried her fear of water as a scar the rest of her life – until the Warrior Games.
About a month before the competition, Princler asked fellow competitor Sgt. Gavin Sibayan, WTB, to teach her to swim. She started with the backstroke because she was afraid to get her face wet.
“I wouldn’t even get my face wet in the shower,” she said.
Once she learned the backstroke, she started on the freestyle, learning just days before the Games started how to jump off the blocks.
Princler medaled in both her sports, earning a bronze in the 100-meter track race, a silver in the 50-meter backstroke, and a bronze in the 50-meter freestyle swim.
Plans are in the works for Warrior Games to be held next year.