The U.S. Special Operations Command’s Care Coalition hosted 54 wounded, ill, and injured Special Operations Forces service members on MacDill AFB through the Wounded Warrior Athletic Reconditioning Program (WWARP) for a USSOCOM All-Sports Training Camp March 3 – 7.
The weeklong event consisted of six different sports – shooting, archery, track and field, volleyball, swimming, and cycling, and Warrior Games trials with coaches on hand to provide instruction. The wounded warriors also had the opportunity to challenge USSOCOM’s command staff, led by the SOCOM Commander Admiral William H. McRaven, and the University of South Florida varsity women’s volleyball team to a few exhibition matches of seated volleyball.
“The purpose of this event is to introduce our wounded, injured, and ill SOF service members to new sports, activities, and equipment that are specially adapted to accommodate their injuries and limitations,” said Army Major Tony Gonzalez, USSOCOM adaptive sports program manager.The WWARP’s mission is to assist in both the physical and mental recovery processes and works to improve the overall health and welfare of wounded, ill, or injured Special Operations Forces, through exposure to adaptive team sports and recreation. WWARP supports both active duty and retired members of the Special Operations community.
“Our program affords them the opportunities to get back into their sport(s) of choice and receive world-class training from some of the best coaches in the world,” Gonzalez said. “The program seeks to help its athletes adapt and adjust to their injuries and do so in a peer-based environment.”
There are some athletes that have been a part of events like this for several years such as Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John Stances.
“I have been part of the Warrior Games for 3 years and it’s great,” said Stances. “The camaraderie is awesome, I love it.”
Then there are the athletes just getting into these events for the very first time, and Army Master Sgt. David Arabinko is a perfect example of this type of athlete.
Arabinko retired after 27 years of service after sustaining his worst injury in 2003 when he was shot through the head with a 7.62mm bullet. This is Arabinko’s first year at the Warrior Games and he said he was looking forward to the bike riding and shooting events.
“I came here because I haven’t done anything for three years and I want to learn to work out and get back into shape and try to lose some weight, it’s like going to basic training and working out for the first time,” said Arabinko. “There are some people here that are in really good shape but most of these guys are wheelchair confined or missing limbs, but they are teaching camaraderie, sportsmanship and how to be part of the team.”
There are many benefits for the athletes that participate in this event but the hard work doesn’t come without some repercussions.
“I have been perpetually sore since I have been here,” said Arabinko.Athletes on hand represented every service, component and Theater Special Operations Command within USSOCOM, and Gonzalez stated they continue to reach out to get more athletes all the time.
One of the other purposes of the WWARP is to introduce new athletes to adaptive sports and to provide returning athletes intermediate-to-advanced training. Ideally, many of the athletes will return home and continue their participation in their own communities.
“Our goal is to not only support our current participants, but to also reach those wounded, injured, or ill service members that erroneously believe that their athletic days are behind them. Our current athletes are proof that anything is possible if you refuse to let your limitations hold you back,” said Gonzalez. “Prior to their injuries, our participants were some of the best athletes that the military had to offer.”
The athletes that excel in training and express a desire to do so may be selected to the team that will represent USSOCOM at the 2014 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, September 22 – October 4, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that they plan on having the final team decided no later than June.