Editor’s note: These stories were produced by the Department of Defense and published here as part of a partnership with Military Times.
For more than a decade, the Department of Defense Warrior Games have served as a platform for wounded, ill and injured service members, and veterans to compete against other wounded warriors in a variety of adaptive sports. But what is the DoD Warrior Games?
The DoD Warrior Games started in 2010 to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded service members and veterans through adaptive sports. In it’s first year, the Games hosted about 200 wounded warriors.
Much like any athlete, competing at the highest level of competition is the goal and wounded, ill or injured service members or veterans are no exception. Participation in the DoD Warrior Games represents the culmination of a warrior athlete’s involvement in an adaptive sports program.
The Games continue today as a multi-day adaptive sports competition specifically for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. Teams represent the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and Specials Operations Command. Additionally, athletes from ally nations such as Canada and United Kingdom have competed.
Teams include active military service members and veterans with upper-body, lower-body, and spinal cord injuries; traumatic brain injuries; visual impairment; serious illnesses; and post-traumatic stress.
Over the years, the Games have been hosted in cities and military installations across the nation to include Tampa, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; most recently Orlando, Florida and where it all started Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Foundational sports like archery, swimming, track cycling, field, wheelchair basketball and rugby, and sitting volleyball have consistently been a part of the competition. Other sports like wheelchair tennis and golf have seen their time as official adaptive sports competitions during the Games.
Athletes can compete in a single event or all of them, and many do. Every Games, more than more than half the athletes are competing in a variety of the adaptive sports, many competing in several sports in one day.
The Games also serve as a way of introducing adaptive sports and the service branch Warrior Care Programs to the public.
Additional awareness of the service branch warrior care programs means the potential for other wounded, ill or injured service members or veterans to learn about the unique means of rehabilitation available to them.
But it goes beyond the competition and awareness.
Ask any Warrior Athlete who has represented their service branch at a DoD Warrior Games and they will tell you, these Games are about healing, recovering and connection.
The DoD Warrior Games serve to enhance the recovery and rehabilitation of wounded warriors.
For many, the competition provides a platform for personal growth. Athletes as they are preparing for the DoD Warrior Games are attending sports practices and events with their teams, which builds strength, skills, and confidence. Actual competition allows athletes to push their own limits, proving to themselves their own abilities.
“Being an injures Soldier you feel like you’re kind of useless to the Army. You’re kind of useless to the United States. But being in the Warrior Games I feel like I’ve gotten that feeling back,” SPC Mathurin Agnew, former athlete for Team Army said at the first-ever DoD Warrior Games.
Much like serving in the military where bonds are built within units, the DoD Warrior Games allows similar bonds. The Games allow athletes to connect with others from across the teams who may be at a similar stage in their recovery.
“For me, Warrior Games is about healing. It’s about learning what we can do, not what we can’t do and focusing on that,” Retired Air Force 1st Lt. Ryan Novak explained in 2018 during the Games in Colorado Springs. “We come here to heal and to learn. We stay for other people’s stories.”
Because, historically, the Games have been open to the public, athlete friends and families are also able to make connections with those supporting their loved ones’ recovery journey.
The DoD Warrior Games is always another step in a service member or veterans’ journey of recovery and rehabilitation. Each athlete is a demonstration of resilience and bravery, and symbol of home to the tens of thousands of recovery service members and veterans around the world.
The next DoD Warrior Games, which is a the first-ever DoD Warrior Games Challenge, will be a more adaptive-sport centric event, held June 2-12, 2023, At Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, Calif.
The event will be livestreamed at www.DoDWarriorGames.com.