Army 1st Lt. Kelly Elmlinger (center) took three gold medals in the swimming competition at the Warrior Games being held in Colorado Springs, Colo., from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, 2014. She’s flanked by medically retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Tatiana Perkins (left), who took silver, and retired Air Force Capt. Sarah Evans, who took the bronze medal.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – After four days of competition at the Warrior Games, Army took the lead in its hunt for the Chairman’s Cup by racking up an impressive tally of 11 gold, 14 silver and nine bronze – for a 34-medal total with 26 medals in swimming alone.
Air Force followed with 27 medals; the Marines with 24; Special Operations Command 11 and Navy with nine.
Army’s medal run started with the swim competition where active-duty Soldier 1st Lt. Kelly Elmlinger took three of Army’s seven golds, placing 1st in the three classes she entered: women’s 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and the 50-meter backstroke. Teammate Army Reserve Sgt. Kawaiola Nahale grabbed gold in the 50-meter breaststroke and three silvers in the 50-meter backstroke, 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle.
In the men’s competition, medically retired Maj. Raymond O’Donnell captured golds in the 50-meter freestyle and the 50-meter backstroke. He also snatched up three silvers in the 100-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke and the 50-meter breast stroke. Combat medic Master Sgt. Rhodeen Galloway brought home one gold, two silvers and a bronze medal.
“Being able to come here today and represent the Army in swimming meant a lot to me, it shows how far I’ve progressed. I’ve come full circle since having much of my body rebuilt,” said O’Donnell, whose pelvis and hips were shattered. He also damaged his spinal cord when he was thrown from his Humvee while serving as an advisor in Afghanistan.
“What’s most important is that everybody here is alive, we all made it back home from war,” he said. “We need to honor those who did not come home, and we owe it to them to live life to the fullest.
“These Warrior Games are an incredible platform for us to go out there and compete with our brothers and sisters from the other branches of the service. If we don’t live life to the fullest, it’s a disservice and a dishonor to the sacrifice they’ve made,” he added.
Fellow Hawaiian Nahale discovered she had breast cancer while doing her two-week active-duty service with her unit in Hawaii in April 2013. After surgically removing the cancer which was in three places, she was eventually determined cancer-free and elected reconstruction surgery.
One of the toughest things for Nahale was that she had always been a swimmer to the point that her civilian job was a lifeguard at the Hale Koa Hotel for military personnel and their families at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. Because of three extensive surgeries and a high risk of infection, she was banned from swimming and running … and pullups, something she loves to do.
“I went through all the stages, the why me, why now, the what if’s, mostly because of my concern for my 10-year old daughter,” recalls Nahale.
Eventually she broke the news to her daughter who educated herself on breast cancer. Cleared to hit the water again, Nahale was asked to try out for the Army team and started to rack up wins –first at the Warrior Trials where she won two gold medals and one silver medal. She also competed in the Invictus Games in London two weeks ago, winning three bronze medals.
“It’s really a privilege to be here competing with the athletes from the other services,” she said. “The service members, the amputees that I’ve met are amazing athletes … they have definitely overcome something huge.
“To me the Warrior Games is about this great competition… we get up every day; we overcome what we’ve been through every day and we push our hardest, Nahale said. “We all come together because we have one thing in common, we’re either wounded, ill or injured … the comradery we have with not only each other in the Army, but also with the other branches is what this is about.”
Army also took gold in team archery as well as a silver and bronze in the individual events. The match between Frank Barroquiero and Marine veteran Clayton McDaniel was a classic duel. In the finals of the recurve event, the medically retired captain, who was wounded in a firefight in 2009, took a 1-point lead. Then McDaniel came back, opening the lead by 2. On their last three arrows, Barroquiero shot a 9-9-9, but McDaniel picked up a 9-9-8, winning the gold medal 110-109.
“I picked up archery in the therapeutic rec program after being wounded in a firefight in Afghanistan and I picked up archery because I was told I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I kept trying and last year I went to the Warrior Games and competed for Team Army and won gold in the compound bow,” Barroquiero said.
“What I love about the Warrior Games is once again I feel like I have a mission, I’m competing with a team and once again I have a warrior on my left and a warrior on my right and that just feels like home,” he said following the match.
In the team event, the Army trio of Barroquiero, Billy Meeks and retired Sgt. 1st Class Ben Trescott won the gold medal on a tie-breaker with the Air Force team.
Meeks, a medically retired staff sergeant who was wounded four times in as many deployments, dispatched challenger Daniel Crane of Air Force in the shoot-off for bronze, 483 to 479 points.
Meeks said the biggest thing for him about the games is being around like-minded people.
“Everybody is pretty much going through the same things right now,” he said. “To me this is about helping each other out … it’s not just Army, it’s the comradery.”
Army came through in sitting volleyball, winning the bronze medal by defeating Air Force in two straight games, 25-20, and 25-19.
In upcoming games, Army takes on Air Force for the bronze in wheelchair basketball and Navy challenges the undefeated Marines in the fight for gold in sitting volleyball.
The Warrior Games culminate Oct. 3, with the wheelchair basketball gold at stake between the Marines and Navy.
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