There’s little question that Sgt. 1st Class Justin Widhalm is a fighter.
In 2006, while leading his Army sniper team on a mission in Iraq, the Fort Carson sharpshooter fell from a height of 25 feet when the Blackhawk helicopter from which he was preparing to jump lurched suddenly in a windstorm.
Despite breaking his feet and back in the fall, he joined his team in completing the nighttime hunt — using his rifle as a cane.
Widhalm, 32, plans to carry that fighting spirit into the inaugural Warrior Games, a five-day contest in Colorado Springs involving 200 wounded warriors from each of the military’s five branches.
“It’s a friendly but very competitive competition between the services,” said Widhalm, who will compete in seated volleyball, cycling and two competitive shooting events, fittingly enough.
The games are organized by the U.S. Olympic Committee’s U.S. Paralympics division, the Department of Defense, the United Service Organizations and the national nonprofit Ride 2 Recovery.
Events will be held Tuesday through Friday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the Air Force Academy and Memorial Park. Archery, basketball, swimming and track and field also are on the bill.
Most events are free and open to the public, though limited seating is available for swimming and shooting.
For many, the games offer a chance to work toward a short-term a goal while adjusting to life-altering changes.
Widhalm, for one, once believed physical contests were a thing of the past for him.
The July 23, 2006, Blackhawk accident north of Baghdad cut his tour with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team two months short, but the full extent of his battle wounds wasn’t immediately clear.
A dozen roadside bombs exploded near Widhalm during that same tour, including a March 23, 2006 blast that knocked him unconscious, resulting in what may be a lifelong battle against a traumatic brain injury. The symptoms include splitting headaches, sensitivity to light, nausea and balance problems.
Widhalm is assigned to the Fort Carson’s Warrior Transition Battalion and awaiting the Army’s decision on whether he will remain in the service. Unable to lead men in combat, he said he is slowly coming around to the idea that he can contribute in other ways.
He decided to begin competing after seeing paralympians in action in Vancouver early this year. “It was truly inspiring, seeing people a lot worse off than I was achieve amazing things,” he said. “If they can do it, I have no excuse.”
Widhalm is looking beyond the Warrior Games to make his own run at the Paralympics Games, possibly in winter sports. Whether he’ll succeed is unclear; what’s certain, he said, is that he will “try and try and try.”
“I thought this part of my life was behind me. It’s only the beginning.”
Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday (May 10) at the Olympic Training Center, 1750 E. Boulder St.
For a detailed schedule of events, visit www.usparalympics.org and find “Warrior Games presented by Deloitte” under the Military tab. Click on “Competition Schedule” in the box at the left.
Call the writer at 636-0366.