JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Service sports rivalries are sometimes played out on a national level, particularly in December when the annual Army vs. Navy football game is played. For wounded warriors, that sports rivalry takes place every year at the Department of Defense Warrior Games, hosted this year by U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, June 21-30.
Three Soldier-athletes from the Brooke Army Medical Center’s Warrior Transition Battalion battled through the Army trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 5-16, and will represent Team Army in Tampa this summer at the DOD Warrior Games.
At the BAMC quarterly awards ceremony March 26, those Soldiers were honored for their performances at the Army Trials.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Brown earned gold medals in discus and shot put; Sgt. Jorge Rodriguez won the bronze medal in rowing, three silver medals in swimming, and a gold and silver in wheelchair racing; and Spc. Kevin Holyan won silver in both seated discus and seated shot put.
A left bicep injury didn’t stop Brown from keeping his competitive juices flowing.
“My injury was a left bicep injury that I sustained while I was overseas in Iraq,” he explained. “Col. Christopher Roach (BAMC orthopedic surgeon), who got an award today, was the one that did my surgery.”
Roach received the “A” Proficiency Designator Award. It is the highest award that the Army medical department can bestow to recognize professional expertise, exceptional ability, and outstanding achievements in both clinical and academic medicine.
“My surgery was a bicep tenodesis,” Brown said. “That’s where they remove the bicep tendon from one area and reattach it in another location.”
The meaning behind the Army Trials and the Warrior Games reaches far beyond a healthy rivalry. It embraces adaptive reconditioning and sports and allows service members with common burdens to get back on a level playing-field with their brothers and sisters in arms.
“For me, it breaks that mental challenge that you have about yourself,” Rodriguez said. “You see other competitors and veterans and some of them are in a far worse situation than you and they are competing and cheering you on. It’s a big morale booster.”
Both Brown and Rodriquez found their way to adaptive reconditioning through one of their therapists.
“I learned about it from Shelby Jackson,” Rodriguez said. “We would have ‘sport of the month’ activities, which could be wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, etc. My strengths are rowing, swimming and wheelchair racing.
“It helps you feel better about yourself,” he said. “It helps you want to get out there and live, not just shrivel up and stay put in your room and kind of disconnect yourself from society.
“I’m not going to lie, I was depressed,’ Rodriguez added. “I’m still fighting it. It is a huge mental healing. It is 90 percent mental and the other 10 percent is your body.”
According to Brown, adaptive reconditioning was helpful because it got Soldiers out of the barracks and active again.
“Everything we did was adaptive to upper body and lower body injuries,” he stated. “If you couldn’t do standing field events you had the chair for seated competition. It was the same thing with air rifle, air pistol or archery. It is nice because it makes you get out of the barracks room.
“No matter what your limitations might be, you can always try and get past them and push yourself harder, and there’s always a way for you to find competition that challenges you,” Brown said. “There are outlets for you to search for and to train and compete and stay positive. It’s motivating. Even though I was competing against certain people, they were still giving me helpful techniques. We were still helping to coach each other.”
The Warrior Games were established in 2010 as a way to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded warriors and to expose them to adaptive sports.
More than 300 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command, and five partner nations to include the United Kingdom Armed Forces, Australian Defense Force, Canadian Armed Forces, Danish Defense Force, and the Netherlands Defense Force will compete.
Athletes will compete in 14 events, including archery, cycling, time-trial cycling, sitting volleyball, track, field, wheelchair basketball, indoor rowing, powerlifting, and for the first time in Warrior Games history, golf, wheelchair tennis and wheelchair rugby.
Making Team Army wasn’t the main goal for Rodriguez.
“To be honest, that wasn’t a top priority,” he said. “I was so down. I was assigned to go to the trials, but I pulled out because everything here to me was just draining. I was told I should go by my platoon leader and I told him I won’t let you down … and I didn’t!”
Rodriguez said competing at the Army Trials just hits you.
“You know what, I want this,” he said. “That was just one step. Now we’re at another step where we’re training to compete at a higher level. The Warrior games is not full stop. There’s the Invictus Games on top of that. It’s inspiring.”