CAMP PENDLETON — Challenged athletes speed across the basketball court in wheelchairs, and scramble to return the ball in seated volleyball during the Wounded Warrior Paralympics Invitational.
Games began March 7 and ran through March 12. Competitions include archery, swimming, track, cycling, volleyball and shooting.
The games focus on ability and what athletes can accomplish.
“The purpose is to try to get every individual at all skill levels a chance to compete,” Capt. Ryan Powell, of the Wounded Warrior Regiment, said.
Sgt. Christopher Hancock explains the challenges of competition.
“Well I have to deal with not having any feet, so getting around the terrain here and trying to keep up with everybody else that’s normal, that’s my biggest task.
“I’m able to do it.
“And seeing everyone else out here that’s an amputee pushes me a little bit harder.”
Marines each compete in two to three adapted sports.
Top players from the invitational go on to be part of the Marine Corps national team and compete against other military branches in the Warrior Games in Colorado.
From there elite athletes progress to the U.S. team in the international Paralympic Games.
Corp. Ben McCrosky has competed for the Marine Corps team for two years, and has his sights set on joining the U.S. team next year.
He now teaches newcomers to paralympic competition how to play seated volleyball through practice drills and scrimmages.
“Moving, you’re using a lot of your hands,” McCrosky said. “Movement is the biggest thing.”
While the competition is spirited, the goal of the invitational is to support military men and women, who are ill and injured, in their recovery.
Adapted sports provide Marines mental and spiritual engagement, a new goal to break the monotony of rehabilitation routines, and a common ground to share with fellow Marines.
Coaches often work one on one with players to address their specific challenges.
Sports equipment is adapted to allow athletes to succeed.
For those who are competing in archery and missing an arm a strap holds the bow across their shoulder.
Wheelchairs used in basketball have four additional small wheels with 360 degree turning radius for maneuverability.
Commander Lauren Nilsen, U.S. Navy nurse and Wounded Warrior seated volleyball coach, said the paralympics are near and dear to her.
She was on the receiving end as U.S. casualties returned to the states for medical care.
“The flights would come in from Iraq and Afghanistan within one to three days after they were wounded,” Nilsen said.
“For me as a nurse who was on the receiving end of these gentlemen and women with these injuries, and then to be here in the recovery process as a coach, I’m very grateful to see how well they’re doing.”
Nilsen said for injured troops mastering new goals, and time with fellow Marines is healing.
“We’re promoting athleticism, recovery, camaraderie, good fun and that bonding that’s unique to the armed forces, in particular for the United States Marine Corps.”
For both McCrosky and Hancock the reward of the games is time spent with fellow warriors.
“Developing long lasting friendships is really the biggest thing in my opinion,” Hancock said.