On May 9, retired Coast Guard Lt. Sancho Johnson’s flight will touch down in Colorado Springs, Colo., marking the start of his fourth Warrior Games experience. He is part of a small group of wounded warrior athletes who have attended the Paralympic-like competition every year since its inception.
“I feel great going into the Warrior Games. I won a bronze medal last year, and I am highly motivated to return this year and compete on a higher level, maybe even winning a silver or gold,” said Johnson.
Johnson is among the 35 accomplished wounded warrior athletes competing on behalf of Team Navy. He will participate in field events – seated shot put and seated discus – on Tuesday, May 14, and spend the remainder of the weekend cheering for and encouraging his teammates. He is the only U.S. Coast Guardsman participating in the Warrior Games this year.
“Lt. Johnson can be quiet and reserved, but he never fails to leave a lasting impression. He always has a positive attitude, and he cares so much about each of his teammates. He inspires all of us,” said Navy Lt. Megan Haydel, who oversees the development and training of Team Navy.
Johnson, who spent 14 years in the Coast Guard, was injured in an accident while on liberty on the island of Dominica in 2009. He was riding on a bus that lost control and drove off a cliff, throwing him from the vehicle and leaving him with all but one rib broken, a broken right femur, a broken right shoulder and a spinal-cord injury.
Today, Johnson is based in Jackson, Miss., where he co-chairs Blessings Restored, a nonprofit organization providing various types of assistance to individuals with spinal-cord injuries, as well as youths who have lost one or both parents prior to graduating high school. He also oversees the day-to-day operations of Brand72 Company, manages five residential rental properties and serves as a motivational speaker.
Most members of Team Navy arrived in Colorado Springs on May 4 to attend a training camp prior to the Warrior Games, which will help them acclimate to the 7,000-foot altitude and focus on team-building. Johnson, however, will arrive late to the camp because he is hard at work establishing a new business. He is constructing an inline retail center featuring a 20,000 square-foot family entertainment center.
“I got married last year, and my wife has two children. Since that time, I have been much more involved in family-oriented activities and venues. I saw my new business venture as an opportunity to get even more involved in families,” said Johnson.
Despite juggling many competing priorities, Johnson has been focused during the past few months on training for the Warrior Games. He visits the local gym at least three times a week, and he takes time to throw the shot put and discus in his back yard at least four times a week.
Johnson, who is confined to a wheelchair, will be joined at the Warrior Games by his new wife, Shundra, who will provide non-medical care and encourage him from the sidelines.
“Lt. Johnson’s family – his sister and father, and now his new wife – has been a reliable presence at the Warrior Games for the past four years,” said Haydel. “We have gotten to know them so well that they really have become part of the team, too.”
The Warrior Games bring together more than 200 wounded, ill and injured service members from all branches of the U.S. military, as well as from international armed forces. The event includes competitions in archery, cycling, seated volleyball, shooting, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball. The goal of the Warrior Games isn’t necessarily to identify the most skilled athletes, but rather to demonstrate the incredible potential of wounded warriors through competitive sports.
Team Navy is sponsored by Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor, the Navy and Coast Guard’s wounded warrior support program. The team members have upper-body or lower-body injuries, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, visual impairments, serious illnesses or post-traumatic stress.
“I love my teammates. Even though we don’t see each other that often, lately over the last couple weeks members of the team have been sending out emails to encourage people to continue to work hard and come to Colorado Springs ready to compete,” said Johnson. “Those messages have really motivated me.”
Johnson is enrolled in NWW, which coordinates the non-medical care of more than 1,000 seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen and provides resources and support to their families. The program is a department of Fleet and Family Support within Commander, Navy Installations Command. All enrollees in NWW are encouraged to make athletics – which has proven healing benefits – a key component of their recovery plans.