The Warrior Games will return next year to Colorado Springs, the result of an energizing inaugural event that drew zealous crowds, a handful of sponsors and heated competition among 187 injured and ill service members representing all five military branches.
An announcement is expected in the coming weeks from U.S. Paralympics and the U.S. Department of Defense, Brig. Gen. Gary Cheek said before the seven-sport festival, won by the Marines, ended Friday with the swimming finals at the Olympic Training Center.
Dates for next year aren’t set because of uncertainty over availability at the OTC, where archery, shooting, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball also were staged, and Air Force, the site for cycling and track and field. More sports might be added, like a summer biathlon, but there’s no talk of bringing more participants into the fold.
“How do you beat this place?” Cheek said. “It has been a terrific week. Having the magic and the history that emanates here, all the great American athletes that have trained here, it sparked the enthusiasm we’ve had. We’re very proud we can now add to that history.”
Cheek was convinced the Warrior Games, with funding from U.S. Olympic Committee sponsor Deloitte and the El Pomar Foundation, needed to stay in Colorado Springs after watching Thursday’s hand-cycling, where an Army amputee and a Navy amputee turned back on a course covered with snow flurries to help an Army competitor reach the finish.
“You just don’t see things like that,” Cheek said. “It’s just incredible.”
“I don’t know where this is going to go,” Cheek added. “I know it’s really going to help a lot in getting us back into life, the spirit of competition. … While we’re competing on the court and in the field and in the swimming pool, in the end, we fight on the same team.”
Buoyed by wins in sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball, the Marines claimed the Chairman’s Cup by 26 points over Air Force, while Army was 38 points off the pace and a combined Navy-Coast Guard team was fourth, 58 points back. Daniel Hathorn of Navy was the winner in the “Ultimate Champion” event, a three-sport competition.
The Marines won all five of their sitting volleyball games, not dropping a set before a 25-16, 21-25, 15-9 victory over Army in the finals. They also went undefeated in wheelchair basketball, with four wins by an average of 37 points, capped by a 44-15 triumph against Army in front of hundreds at the OTC. Air Force grabbed bronze medals in both sports.
Beau Parra gave the Marines a gold in archery, and the Marines got two golds in cycling, by Michael Blair and Justin Wess. The Marines claimed nine golds in track, most notably by Jeffery “Scott” Martin and Brandon Pelletier in the 100-meter dashes, and seven golds in swimming, led by Pelletier, Brittney Hutchins and Josh McDaniel in the 50 freestyle.
“The preparedness factor played a very large part,” said Blair, a 35-year-old sergeant who broke both of his legs when he was hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2006. “The other branches of service didn’t have people arrive until the day of the games. Some of the teammates met within hours of competing. You can’t pull teams together that fast.”
“Look at what Marines can do when they work together as a team,” said Spanky Gibson, a 38-year-old master sergeant whose left leg was amputated after he was shot by a sniper in Iraq in 2006. “They can overcome anything. They don’t see any injuries in each other.”