For Air Force Capt. Lewis Barasha, the Warrior Games are one place he will not stand out.
That is a good thing.
'It's the first time in a long time I don't feel out of place, ' the injured Afghanistan veteran and wheelchair basketball competitor from Fort Collins said. 'I shouldn't feel that way on my own base (Warren in Cheyenne, Wyo.) but I do. I feel camaraderie with the others. '
That feeling is one of the many benefits to be found in the games, which open May 11 and last through May 16, experts say. The social aspect is a big part of how the event, as part of a long-term rehabilitation program, helps the 260 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans participating as they continue to adjust to their 'new normal. '
'Keeping people engaged with social connections is important because any trauma can make people feel different, ' Air Force clinical psychologist Lt. Col. Alicia Matteson said. 'The Warrior Games offer what we came to know as vital. You need others that you can share with and feel normal. '
That leads to more confidence and better socialization.
'It really opens up a whole new world for them, ' retired Navy petty officer 2nd Class Joseph Frank said.
The Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio provides a comprehensive approach to heal the physical wounds and adjust to new limitations while dealing with emotional scars for those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or those suffering from some symptoms.
Symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, such as flashbacks or upsetting dreams; avoidance and numbing, which includes avoiding thinking or talking about a traumatic event; and increased anxiety or emotional arousal, including fits of anger, overwhelming guilt or self-destructive behavior.
The symptoms, which may include a sense of powerlessness, can come and go.
Participation in the Warrior Games provides perspective, Iraq veteran and Air Force Sgt. Kevin Murphy said.
'I was an avid basketball player as a kid so it feels good to be back doing what you love, ' the Birmingham, Ala., native said. 'But it is a lot more than just playing basketball. Seeing guys like me and guys a lot worse off than me gives me inspiration. '
It also helps the parents, who may have a hard time accepting their child's need for independence, said Dr. Wil Scott, an Air Force PTSD expert and Vietnam veteran.
'Soldiers see themselves as athletes as do their families, ' Air Force clinical psychologist David McCone said. 'They see them adapting and taking back an old skill or delight. They know they will be OK. '
Participants are empowered by competition too.
'As an older guy, I really look forward to beating some of those young guys, ' said Army Lt. Col. Daniel Dudek. 'But in the end, we are all there to support each other. '
'I was really impressed last year when the American crowds cheered so hard for their athletes and for ours, ' three-sport entrant and British Army Capt. Dave Henson said.
That is what makes the event so special, Marines track and field coach Victor Plata said.
'You see athletes doing their best and it doesn't matter if they win or finish last, ' he said. 'As long as they've done their best, they feel a sense of accomplishment. That means far more than any medal. '