“It’s amazing to me what some of them have overcome,” said 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Capt. Ashley Ritchey, who will compete in cycling and swimming. “You see guys out there missing both legs and an arm and they are cycling right past me.”
The six-day event begins Sunday with opening ceremonies at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Ritchey’s inspiration is shared by her fellow Special Operations Command athletes like Dustan Brewer and Joshua Bendell. They both compete in air pistol and rifle and Brewer will also race in cycling.
“There is always someone out there that has it much worse than you and it doesn’t stop them,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Brewer, who suffered a back injury while on active duty. He is also recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder from a tour in Afghanistan.
That is important to realize when trying to recover from injuries sustained in combat, training or while on active duty. More than 200 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans will compete as part of five U.S. teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and SOCOM. They will compete in archery, cycling, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, track and field and wheelchair basketball. The Marine Corps has won the Chairman’s Cup (team title) the past four years.
The competition fits in well with adaptive sports programs by helping these former athletes adapt to new limitations.
“You learn how you can stay healthy by doing different exercises that don’t hurt you and lay you up for three days,” said Bendell, who was a professional Thai boxer before becoming a Green Beret. He suffered a severe back injury during skydiving training.
Being part of the event helps them meet others going through comparable experiences.
“They all get to know each other and learn from each other,” said recovery care coordinator Mike Crowe of the SOCOM Care Coalition. “That is very important.”
Preparing for the event, often with the help of therapists and rehabilitation programs help them recover physically. Competing also helps their pride, Crowe said.
Ritchey sustained a traumatic brain injury, soft tissue damage and broken bones along her right side from a bicycling crash. Seeing amputees working out got her off the couch.
“It was so easy to find excuses not to exercise,” she said. “It was cold. It was icy. It took me a long time to face my fear.”
Last week, for the first time, she rode the same route near her home where she crashed. That emotional healing is why the Warrior Games are held.
“Having this (Warrior Games) as a goal has been a big help,” Ritchey said. “You see so many people overcoming huge obstacles, it makes yours seem small.”
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