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Warrior Games: Receiving more than has been given

 

U.S. Air Force photo: Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet 1st Lt. Ryan McGuire, right, sprints the last leg of the 1,500m dash to take fourth place during the Warrior Games May 14, 2010, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

link U.S. Air Force photo: Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet 1st Lt. Ryan McGuire, right, sprints the last leg of the 1,500m dash to take fourth place during the Warrior Games May 14, 2010, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Looking at the athletes’ training schedule, most people would call them nuts. Their day usually starts at dawn, includes a multitude of intense workouts and doesn’t stop until dusk. Where, after a no-nonsense dinner, they crawl into bed to get a few blissful hours of sleep before the alarm jolts them back into the grind. Sounds like fun right? Now imagine doing all that in addition to coping with a disability.

The athletes of the Warrior Games, held each September, are members of five military teams: Air Force, Marines Corps, Army, Navy and Coast Guard, and special operations, who were wounded during their careers. Whether that wound was inflicted during combat, the result of an accident, or the internal scars that linger after surviving the fight with cancer, it matters not. All are welcome and all are given the same opportunities to compete.

Maj. Charles Toth, 27th Special Operations Wing executive officer, served as the assistant swim coach for the Warrior Games team during its inaugural season in 2010, as well as in 2011. He says that the effort put forth by these extraordinary people has always had an effect on him.

“There has not been a year I’ve been involved in the Warrior Games where one of the participants hasn’t brought me to tears,” said Toth.

Having been involved since the start, Toth has had a chance to see the Warrior Games evolve from an idea to the intense competition it is today.

“In 2010, when the games started, we only had 15 athletes,” said Toth. “Now, we just finished holding our selection camp where 120 people competed for the 40 slots our team has available.”

The Warrior Games began as a way to help military members going through a difficult time due to their injuries or conditions. It is the military’s portion of the U.S. Paralympics program and consists of seven different sports including, archery, cycling, shooting, seated-volleyball, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball. Each participant selected for the team usually competes in three or more events.

To assist supplement the training regimen that each team member completes on their own time, an adaptive sports camp and a week-long training camp are held each year. The adaptive sports camp is an introduction to the sports that the competitors will be participating in. The training camp serves as a way to assess problem areas and gain a competitive advantage over the opposition one month before the actual games are held.

“We try to give those who need it some basics,” said Toth about the adaptive sports camp. “So when they go home, they have what they need to stay motivated.”

Another factor Toth has seen change over the years is leadership support. President Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, has been involved in the games as well as other high ranking officials, including His Royal Highness Prince Harry of England. Prince Harry, in fact, was so moved by what he saw here in the states that upon returning home he put into motion the idea that the United Kingdom should also have a version of the Warrior Games. Therefore the Invictus Games were born, and this year wounded warriors from 16 allied countries will be going to England to participate in them.

“When the games first started, if there was a lieutenant colonel present it was a big deal,” said Toth. “Now, we’ve had all these important people involved and you can see how it inspires the athletes.”

Toth went on to speak of how he came to be a Warrior assistant coach.

“I attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado and swam and played water polo there,” said Toth, “then after my first duty station I went back (to the academy). I was already involved in swimming, so when they were trying to get the games together and needed a swim coach, I was like ... ‘I’ll do it’.”

While attending the camps and other events gives Toth a chance to meet with his athletes, he admits it’s difficult to be a coach to people who are scattered all over the United States. To stay in touch he uses email, phone calls and social media sites. He sends his team up to three workouts a week and checks on their progress daily. He says that he is always impressed with the strength, dedication and perseverance he sees at the competition.

“Although I’m able to give these people some instruction,” said Toth, “I get so much more back. These warriors, who have had such traumatic things happen to them, go through hardships and overcome them on a daily basis. It’s a very emotional experience.”

 
 

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