The Wounded Warrior Games, scheduled May 11-17, also in Colorado Springs, will be how these athletes showcase their abilities in seven sports: shooting, archery, wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, swimming, cycling and track & field. The Air Force team is composed of 50 active-duty, reserve and retired Airmen from across the country. Their injuries range from post-traumatic stress disorder to quadriplegia and is open also to non-combat related injuries/illnesses (cancer, state-side accidents, etc). Let's just say, the diversity of athlete's abilities (not disabilities) tested this coach and I learned a ton.
Until the last couple years, the "Wounded Warrior" was a distant news story or somebody I had heard about from a friend. I had never witnessed the combat casualties in person as my deployed location was at a HQ safe and secure away from the fight. During the AFW2 selection camp, I learned these unique Airmen just want to build relationships like us all. They wanted to be asked about their circumstance. They wanted to share their details how they were injured, how they endured an 8-hour firefight or the effects of a reaction to the flu vaccine. (Yes, I met two veterans who were paralyzed from the flu vaccine, but I was told that's VERY RARE.) At first, I was uncomfortable to get into the details of how their life was forever changed. That is where I grew (or grew up) as a person. With any relationship between a coach and athlete it takes getting to know the details of that individual. You have to ask those questions! You have to get to know their abilities, history, get to know what makes them tic, dedication to improving their situation, and future goals of why they are doing what they do. Like every one of us, no different.
After getting to know the athletes pretty much from the first day, I was inspired! My first session on Monday, an athlete, Chris Wolff, who I knew as being paralyzed from the waist down was in my spin session. I put him on the hand cycles towards the back of the room and included him in the workout as much as possible. At one point in the workout after an intense interval, I got the rest of the athletes off their bikes and we proceeded to do some wall-sits for athlete quadricep development. Almost immediately, I looked towards the back of the room and Chris proceeded to get out of his hand-cycle chair and lean against the wall! Afterwards, he said it looked like I had seen a ghost. I went over to him, shocked about this athlete supposedly not being totally paralyzed anymore and helped him "slide down the wall" to see how deep he could get into the wall-sit. After about 15 seconds he had enough and we got him back on his seat. Let's just say the room was pretty excited. INSPIRATION!
Not only am I putting together Spring Training Plans for this group leading up to the April training camp, I will being thinking a lot about Chris and these athletes. I will be thinking about them when I'm in a tough spot in a workout, or when my body doesn't want to get out of bed. If Chris can get out of that chair, then my body SHOULD respond on a much easier task. This week tested me as a coach but grew me as a human and I can't wait to get back with them and proceed onto our goals as the AFW2 2013 team.