Navy Wounded Warrior announced the 45 Navy and Coast Guard athletes representing Team Navy during the 2021 Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Games scheduled Sept. 12-22 in Orlando, Florida.
Selecting this roster of active duty and retired service members was no easy feat. Like everything else this past year, COVID-19 threw a wrench into the Wounded Warrior trials selection process. Usually conducted during a two-week, in-person camp, coaches and organizers had to get creative to assess athletes’ skill, strength and sportsmanship in a virtual environment.
“For our virtual practices, athletes set up a computer or phone and worked out live over Zoom,” said Michelle Buchanan, who has been coaching erg rowing for the Warrior Games since 2018. “I was able to coach them and correct their technique in real time. Some of the athletes tuned in on a stationary bike or from their desk just to learn about the sport and proper form. But most of all they’d log on for the camaraderie, which is the biggest benefit of this program — feeling connected to other people on their toughest days.”
Virtual practices occurred over six to eight weeks, with each sport’s coach offering formal instruction two to three times per week. Some sports requiring specialty equipment, such as archery, conducted their trials through trivia by testing athletes’ knowledge on things like parts of bow, theory of form and technique. Despite being conducted remotely, the practices were highly effective, according to Mario Ingram, a retired Navy Sailor returning for his fourth Warrior Games.
“You put in a lot of work, but you get out of it what you put in. At the end of the day, you feel good about yourself and your workout,” Ingram said. “Whether we’re at training camp or the games, I’m going to make sure that our team sits down and eats together like a family. That’s my favorite thing about Warrior Games. Having that extended family with the athletes and their families.”
Lorraine Currow, a recent Coast Guard retiree and first-time Warrior Game athlete, appreciated that the extended virtual trials provided an opportunity for teammates to bond and fostered a strong support system.
“Accepting that you’re living with an injury or illness, possibly for the rest of your life, is one of the hardest life events one can experience,” explained Currow. “Pushing yourself to compete and overcome it is challenging both physically and emotionally. When a teammate says they’ve had a hard time lately, we all understand and that camaraderie makes a difference. When I compete, I’ll be thinking of my shipmates who aren’t yet medically cleared to participate. Their journey to recovery and acceptance of a new normal gives me the drive to succeed at the games.”
Team selectees will convene for camp in July, where they will practice and be evaluated for aptitude in DoD Warrior Games’ 12 sports: archery, cycling, field, golf, indoor rowing, precision air sports (shooting), powerlifting, track, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. Based on their performance results and physical disability qualifications, they will be assigned to compete in at least three sports for Team Navy.
“Most often, the community these service members build and the relationships they make become a major part of their recovery and those connections remain long after their time in the Games have ended,” explained Lizbeth Opiola, adaptive sports and recreation coordinator for Navy Wounded Warrior. “I know without a doubt we help service members rediscover their purpose in life or that sense of hope.”
The Warrior Games will be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort. For more information about the Warrior Games, visit www.dodwarriorgames.com.