Starting Saturday, members of Team Navy will compete in the 2013 Warrior Games against other wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from the Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Throughout the seven-day event, the service members and veterans will compete for the gold in adaptive sports of track and field, shooting, swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball.
In this blog, Lt. Megan Haydel, Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor, explains how adaptive sports – like those at the Warrior Games – help wounded warriors recover.
People sometimes ask me what adaptive sports are all about. It’s a buzz phrase you often hear in discussions about warrior care. What exactly does it mean? And, more specifically, what does it mean to service members who are seriously wounded, ill or injured?
Adaptive sports are athletic activities modified to meet the abilities of injured or ill individuals. Virtually any sport – from archery, to surfing, to playing basketball in wheelchairs – can be adapted. Adaptive sports are considered some of the most useful tools in promoting recovery among wounded warriors.
Fitness and teamwork are a way of life in the military. Serious illness or injury can profoundly impact that way of life, often confining a service member to a hospital bed and significantly altering his or her physical capabilities. Sports bring wounded warriors a sense of normalcy, a return, of sorts, to their old way of life. Sports build strength and endurance, and they allow wounded warriors to enjoy being part of a team again.
Research spells out the many benefits of adaptive sports; some might surprise you. Adaptive sports foster greater self-esteem, help lower stress levels and even prevent secondary medical conditions. Interestingly, they also encourage increased pursuit of higher education, which leads to improved employment opportunities among wounded warriors.
Though it’s compelling, the research only tells part of the story. As the adaptive sports coordinator at Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor, I have seen firsthand the healing power of athletics. It changes lives.
One telling example is retired Navy Lt. Rickey Bennett, a member of Team Navy who will compete at the 2013 Warrior Games. The event is a Paralympic-style competition with more than 200 wounded warriors from all branches of the U.S. military, as well as from international armed forces. It includes competitions in archery, cycling, shooting, swimming, track and field, seated volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
A year-and-a-half ago, I met Rickey during an adaptive sports training camp hosted by Navy Wounded Warrior in Port Hueneme, Calif. Rickey, a Navy chaplain who had served multiple combat tours, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. I was familiar with his background only because I had read his case file. He was very quiet and private and he hardly interacted with anyone during the camp.
But he kept coming back. Two training camps later, I noticed that he was coming out of his shell. He particularly enjoyed archery and wheelchair basketball. Archery is a quiet, reflective sport that allowed him to focus and organize his thoughts. Wheelchair basketball, on the other hand, helped him develop a rapport with his teammates.
Though Rickey continues to battle his condition, he has a network of people who understand his struggles and can provide support when he needs it. At the end of the day, few people can relate to Rickey in the same way his teammates do. They are a source of immeasurable comfort. He has said on multiple occasions that adaptive sports saved his life.
Rickey will join other members of Team Navy at the 2013 Warrior Games May 11 to 16 in Colorado Springs, Colo. Though, of course, I hope Rickey does very well during competition – and possibly earn a medal or two – that is not my primary concern. Instead, I hope the Warrior Games serve as a reminder – to his family, to his supporters and, most importantly, to himself – that his abilities have not been diminished by his wounds.
Follow Team Navy’s progress on Twitter using the hashtag #TeamNavy.
Do you know a wounded warrior? How have you helped his or her recovery? Let us know by commenting below.