Team Navy Begins Warrior Games Training

Yeoman Javier Rodriquez Santiago, assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Senior Chief Austin Reese, assigned to EOD Training and Evaluation Unit 2, begin a practice run on their racing wheel chairs. U.S. Navy Photo

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Thirty-nine seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors - who hail from across the country - landed in Colorado Springs, Colo., this week to begin training for the fifth annual Warrior Games, which kick off at the Olympic Training Center Sept. 28.

The weeklong training camp, which began Sept. 22, will help the athletes acclimate to the 7,000-foot altitude and encourage team bonding. By practicing together, Team Navy will compete more seamlessly against wounded warriors from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations during the Warrior Games next week.

"It has been very challenging adjusting to the thinner air here in Colorado," said Navy Counselor 1st Class Misty Taylor, who was wounded in combat in 2005. "Yesterday was very exhausting, and it was hard to breathe while participating in cardio events. Even at rest I would feel my heart begin to pound."

During the Warrior Games, nearly 200 accomplished wounded warrior athletes will go head-to-head in archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball. Taylor, who is a Warrior Games rookie, will compete in archery (recurve) and swimming.

The members of Team Navy were selected after an intensive trials event in June in Norfolk, Virginia. More than 70 seriously wounded, ill and injured service members - the largest turnout at any Navy adaptive sports event - competed for a spot on the team roster.

Since then, the Team Navy athletes have participated in two other training events including a camp at the cutting-edge facilities at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, and practiced at home.

"I have been training every week since the trials," said Taylor. "I spent two to three hours working on swim drills at least three times a week. And I was able to train two hours twice a week at the outdoor archery range as practice. I really want to do well and make my team proud."

Spending time together, and with wounded warriors from other branches of the military, has made the week leading up to the Warrior Games especially enjoyable for Team Navy.

"For many of the sports, including basketball, volleyball, swimming and archery, the services are sharing spaces for training," said NWW Acting Deputy Director Lenora Weatherford. "The athletes have been mentoring each other regardless of service affiliation. Though this is a competition, at the end of the day, it is primarily an opportunity for them to heal - and to help each other heal - through sport."

Retired Navy Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Patrick Blair, a first-time Warrior Games competitor who was injured in a shipboard accident in 2011, compares Team Navy to a family. He will compete in cycling (upright) and swimming next week.

"I love seeing these guys," said Blair. "It's like a family reunion whenever we see each other. It's going to be great putting all our training to work at winning as a team."

Since its inception in 2010, the Warrior Games have been hosted by the United States Olympic Committee and presented by Deloitte Corporation with support from the Department of Defense. The event emphasizes capabilities - not disabilities - and the role of sports in the recovery of seriously wounded, ill and injured service members.

All of the wounded warrior athletes on Team Navy are enrolled in NWW. The team includes active-duty and retired service members with upper-body, lower-body and spinal cord injuries; serious illnesses; traumatic brain injuries; visual impairment; and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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