CAMP PENDLETON —For over a week more than 300 wounded warriors have been competing against fellow Marines and an international field in the Wounded Warrior Trials for the chance to be selected to the All-Marine Team and compete against other wounded, ill or injured service members from all branches of the service.Only 50 Marines will be selected to compete in the Warrior Games next month in Colorado.The trials, which feature games including sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, archery, swimming and track and field, are part of a reconditioning program to help wounded, ill or injured Marines recover both mentally and physically.
The Marines participating are all wounded, ill or injured. Some are injured in combat, some in a car accident, some that are seriously ill, said Capt. Jill Wolf.
Lance Cpl. Nicholas Green is competing in the games for the second year in a row. He lost his right leg while on leave at home in Philadelphia.
Green explained how when he was on leave with a friend a man approached and attempted to rob them. During the robbery, Green was shot in the hip where the bullet hit the iliac artery, which caused massive blood loss; it was because of the bullet hitting the artery and the blood loss that he lost his leg.
Green admitted it was tough coming to grips with the loss of his leg, but added that he got over it pretty fast.
“I had a lot of support from family and friends,” he said.
He chooses to compete, he said, to show himself that he can still do it. “It’s to show myself that I’m still able to get out and do…whatever I want to do.”
The trials have grown since their inception in 2010.
“Last year we had three visiting countries and this year we have seven,” Wolf said.
Servicemen from the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Columbia, the Netherlands and France are all participating in the games.
The participating international athletes have expressed excitement about being involved in the games and also because many of the countries competing in the trials don’t have anything like this in their own countries, Wolf explained.
“This is a first of its kind in America,” Wolf said. “So I think they’re excited to be part of this because it is so new and they also hope to bring this experience back and replicate it in their own nations.”
Col. Olivier Sastre of the French Army brought five wounded soldiers to participate in the trials, four of the soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan, and another, Staff Sgt. David Travadon lost his arm while serving in Lebanon.
Travadon was receiving training on shot-put while preparing for the track and field events.
“Sports is very important for them; to rebuild them to be able to serve again in the regiment and also to meet other wounded soldiers and share experience and develop comradeship,” said Sastre. “And all of them tell me that it is a very pleasant time for them and a good challenge,” he added.
A lot of the competition has increased, too because of the technological improvements of the prosthetics, Wolf explained.
“We have to give some credit to the quality of prosthetic that’s available. Decades ago, you would never see anything like this. Some of these Marines wouldn’t be here if technology on the battlefield wouldn’t have been able to save lives…There’s not a lot these guys can’t do.”
Victor Plata, a triathlete who competed in the 2004 summer Olympic Games, is coaching the Marines for the track and field events.
The ethos of these games is to try and find something that you can do, he said. “It’s to find out how we can do what you need to do to live your life.”
The attitude of the Marines competing has been fantastic, Plata said. “We’re supposed to select, from this group, 50 Marines to make up this team,” he added.
Everyday Plata and the other coaches fill out evaluation forms for each of the competitors. Every competitor is rated with a “plus,” for having an exceptional day, a “minus,” for a terrible day or a “neutral” symbol.
“They don’t even need the minus,” Plata said. “There’s no minus here. There’s absolutely no minus here. And to get a plus, someone practically has to walk on water here because these guys do such a good job, that we’ve given out very few pluses just because everyone is so good,” he said.
Since coaching the trials, Plata said he’s learned an important lesson: Marines can’t fail. “If Marines fail, they die. That’s ingrained in their psyche,” he said. “So when they come out here and try something new, it’s very hard for them to fail. They feel devastated because they’ve been conditioned that failure could equal death.
“So we had to try and recondition them that it’s OK to fail; it’s OK to struggle. It doesn’t mean someone’s going to lose their life. You have to adjust back into the civilian world where failure is actually rewarded…By failing, you have to take a risk, and by taking a risk you have a better chance at success.”
The Warrior Games take place April 30 to May 6 in Colorado Springs, Colo.