Much of the nation may be focused on the NCAA Final Four basketball playoffs that kicked off this week, but there is another group of motivated athletes who are also competing for pride and glory – veterans from the U.S. Navy and U.S Coast Guard competing for a chance to participate in the 2019 DOD Wounded Warrior Games later this year.
Fifty-five athletes contested in 11 events including rowing, cycling, wheelchair basketball, golf, swimming, wheelchair rugby, powerlifting, shooting, archery, track and field. It’s the first time that Naval Air Station North Island has hosted the trials, which were held March 13-22.
The games are part of the Navy Wounded Warrior-Safe Harbor (NWW) program, which provides individually-tailored assistance designed to optimize the success of the wounded warriors’ recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration activities. NWW is solely responsible for coordinating the non-medical care of seriously wounded, ill and injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen, including introducing service members to adaptive sports, as well as providing resources and support to their families and caregivers.
Ron Downs, director of the Navy Wounded Warrior program said returning athletes play a major role in the development of the team.
“Watching the athletes that have been to the games or previous camps take in the new athletes and mentor them has been an incredible experience in these past eight days,” said Downs. “The power of the adaptive sports program is the relationships they build while they are here and spending time with people who understand their injury or illness and what they are going through. They truly are a family.”
Information Systems Technician 1st Class Ruth Freeman, an active duty U.S. Navy Sailor assigned to Naval Network Warfare Command, was diagnosed with very aggressive papillary thyroid cancer in 2016. Multiple surgeries were required to remove 197 lymph nodes and her thyroid.
She attributes a portion of her positive recovery to adaptive sports.
“Being here has helped me a lot,” Freeman said. “I haven’t been very active the past three years because I have been going through treatments and surgeries but being able to participate here allows me to be more active and I can see major improvements in my recovery.”
Being involved in this competition offered Freeman more than a quest for a gold medal.
“One of my goals is to compete in the Warrior Games but that is not my biggest goal,” Freeman said. “My biggest goal is to keep active and healthy, meet more people and maintain my ability to compete locally. Just being here is a really great opportunity.”
The trials offered service members and civilians the opportunity to assist with events.
“It’s motivating to be able to come out and see people who have been through what they have, and still be upbeat and be able to compete,” said Gas Turbine Systems Technician (Mechanical) 2nd Class Lorenzo Hicks. “They still represent their branch of service despite what they have been through. They could have easily let their injuries or situations bring them down.”
At the conclusion of the trials, coaches will meet with the Wounded Warrior staff members to determine who is selected for the U.S. Navy team.
“We look at several factors when making selections, not just athletic ability,” said Downs. “We look at how they work as a team, how their recovery care plan is going, medical appointments that might conflict with schedules. We don’t want to do anything that might interrupt that process.”
The 2019 DOD Wounded Warrior Games will be held in Tampa, Florida June 21-30.
For more information on the DOD Wounded Warrior games visit www.dodwarriorgames.com