COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Competing in the 2014 Warrior Games here was a personally encouraging experience for the six National Guardsmen, three Soldiers and three Airmen, as they represented their respective service.
The games featured more than 200 wounded, ill or injured athletes, comprised of five teams representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force and Special Operations, competing in a week-long event Sept. 28 to Oct. 4.
Created by the Defense Department and U.S. Paralympics in 2010, the Warrior Games consist of seven sports - track and field events, sitting volleyball, cycling, wheelchair basketball, swimming, archery and air rifle/pistol shooting.
In order to qualify for the Warrior Games, athletes had to participate in camps, clinics, trials or other means for their respective services throughout the past year. Many athletes compete in several different sports and events for their teams.
Retired Tech Sgt. Ryan Pinney, former Arizona Air National Guard member, has a spinal cord injury of the T-12 vertebra. He competed in the 10-kilometer hand cycle race, shotput and discus in track and field and played on the Air Force wheelchair basketball team.
Pinney won a gold medal in the hand cycle and silver medals in the shot put and discus.
The Warrior Games and other adaptive sports activities promote athletic reconditioning by encouraging participation in physical and cognitive activities, inspiring physical fitness and encouraging new opportunities for growth and achievement. For the athletes the Warrior Games are about more than just winning medals.
"We are competing against other service members, but the (Warrior Games) are not just about competition, we all got hurt and we had a mission before we got hurt and now we all share a similar mission, Pinney said.
For Sgt. Erin Stewart, Missouri National Guard, adaptive reconditioning activities such asthe Warrior Games are life changing.
"It gives me something positive to focus on, and teaches me things I can do, instead of all the things I can't," she said. "Sports give me the confidence I need to succeed in life."
Stewart earned four bronze medals in swimming events for the Army team:50-meter breaststroke, 50-meter backstroke, 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter freestyle. She also competed in the individual and team shooting events.
"It was a childhood dream of mine to go to the Olympics. Now being able to participate for the honor of my country is a dream come true," she said.
While the games are definitely about friendly competition and who's number one - the real spirit behind the men and women competing comes through in their toughness, determination and never-say-quit attitudes.
Senior Airman Gideon Connelly, who competed in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, was involved in a motorcycle accident where he lost his left leg below the knee. After rehabilitation he returned to duty andserves with the 175th Maintenance Squadron, Maryland National Guard.
Spc. Willie Stafford, assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Stewart, Georgia, also competed in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes.
Both Connelly and Stafford have the goal of making the U.S. Paralympic track and field team for the 2016 Paralympic Games.
Retired Tech. Sgt. Corey Carter, previously an Air National Guard Airman assigned to Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, competed in the archery and shooting competitions.
Sgt. Vester Maxwell Hasson IV, Utah Army National Guard, competed in the 10-kilometer hand cycling. Beyond the Warrior Games, Hasson is working on a sports kinesiology degree so he can help others who are recovering.